I was standing in friends’ kitchen last night when they told me Robin Williams had died. It would have been loss enough to a heart attack or an OD. To an apparent suicide seemed infinitely worse. Like so many people I loved Robin. I grew up watching Mork and Mindy. My friends and I owned all his early comedy albums and quoted the great routines (of which there were so many) all the time.
I was so impressed then when I saw “The World According to Garp” and “Moscow on the Hudson” at the incredible dramatic talent he displayed. And so I was absolutely delighted when he started getting roles like “Good Morning Vietnam” and “Dead Poet Society” which allowed him to combine his incredible comedic talent with his dramatic acting ability. I loved the “Dead Poet Society” so much that after the second viewing I wrote a poem called, “An Ode to Neil.” In the movie Williams played a teacher who deeply inspired his students, but unfortunately one student seeing his dreams squelched commits suicide. That student was Neil and the poem described how the movie theme of “seize the day” can go to far…that we hold onto life so tightly that it’s strangled.
I can picture the scene in the movie where Williams as the teacher reads a line of Henry David Thoreau about “sucking the marrow out of life” and then drops his head in grief. I’ve felt like that the last day. It seems such irony, to me at least, that one of Robin’s greatest roles was about a senseless suicide.
Through the years I’ve not only enjoyed Robin’s comedy and movies, but especially interviews. In those you saw his manic talent for free associating and how so full of life he was. Robin seemed like such a “seize the day” and “suck the marrow out of life” kind of guy that it doesn’t seem like depression could conquer. And yet mental health professionals tell us how incredibly powerful depression can be. I fully admit I know little about his personal life as I try to avoid the tabloid magazines. However, it seems clear to me that Robin had many more hilarious scenes, amazing improv displays and great movie roles in front of him, but the sadness of depression precludes seeing them.
As a Christian and especially a Christian leader I love talking about our gifts and living life to the fullest…being everything God means us to be. Of course I did not know Robin Williams personally or anything of his personal life, but it certainly seemed to me that he was being used by God. His talent made my life and countless other millions more enjoyable. And I’m sad that things got so low he didn’t see the next day when God would use him again. For anyone and everyone who ever thinks about suicide, whether you’re a person of faith or not, please believe God has something more for you…tomorrow!
And for Robin, I feel like the last scene of “Dead Poets Society.” He’s been kicked out of the school and there is nothing that will change this. The headmaster tells him to go, but the boys want to express their love and thanks for how this man has changed their lives. They use a line their teacher told them they could use if they were bold. The line is from a poem which Walt Whitman wrote to commemorate another great soul, Abraham Lincoln, and the boys proudly proclaim it standing on their desks. To you Robin, I thank you, “O Captain, My Captain!”