image via flickr
O Captain! My Captain! Our fearful trip is done.
My hero died on Monday morning. He took his own life.
It’s funny to call someone you’ve never met, or never interacted with a hero, but that’s what Robin Williams was to me. He was my idol.
There exists a thin line between solemn and goofy. Between somber and mirthful. Robin Williams lived on that line. He made it okay to be off-the-wall ridiculous, but at the same time, respected, and revered.
Robin’s talent transcended genre. He was the funny guy, and the Academy Award winning actor, all in one. He could make you laugh with the most ridiculous of antics, and then seconds later, make you cry with a gut-wrenchingly accurate depiction of the human condition.
I was 14 the first time I saw Dead Poets Society. Before that film, Williams was, to me, just the Genie in Aladdin, or the professor from Flubber, or even the dad from RV.
That movie changed me, and how I looked at life.
In the film, Robin plays a progressive minded schoolteacher stuck in a conservative world. He pushes his students past the bindings of their textbooks, and forces them to explore beyond the classroom.
There’s a scene where Williams is addressing his class, explaining the point of language. “Avoid using the word very, because it’s lazy,” he says. “A man is not very tired, he is exhausted.”
The point of language, he says, is not to communicate, but to woo women.
The first time I saw that, I laughed.
In another scene, he has a student list a textbook’s colorless guidelines for scoring and understanding poetry, only on the completion of the reading, to exclaim, “excrement.”
“Tear out the entire introduction,” he says. “Rip it out.”
In that one moment, I decided I wanted to be a writer. Robin Williams tore down the wall between writing for school, and writing for my own enjoyment.
“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”
I took that to heart. I was a plucky little sophomore, but for some odd reason, I sat there in class, convinced that Williams was speaking directly to me. I idolized him.
I finished the film in my English class, and I went home and carried on with my day. But I kept thinking about it. Language. Writing. Words.
I spent the next few weeks watching anything I could find that he featured in. I experienced the pain and joy in Good Will Hunting. I laughed at Patch Adams, and was moved by the Fisher King. Williams was brilliant in all of them. He was just accessible, and human. He made me laugh. He made everyone laugh.
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.
Carpe diem. Seize the day. Again, the student in me sat at his desk and wholeheartedly believed that John Keating was looking straight at him as he whispered “carpe diem.” So I started writing for no one. I wrote poems, and I wrote short stories, and I wrote pieces on sports and politics for no one’s eyes but my own. And then I stopped.
I stopped for a long time. I stopped for two years. And then I saw it again. It was on at night– some screening at one in the morning on TNT – and it took me back. Robin reminded me why I wanted to write in the first place.
“What will your verse be,” he asks his students.
I’m no more than a year older than I was when he asked me that question again. I don’t have the slightest idea what my verse will be. I do know, however, that Mr. Williams helped me write it. I know he impacted the way I’ll revise it, and that I’ll write one at all.
My Captain suffered from Major Depression. He was haunted by it. It followed him till the end, until it eventually took away his light. Major Depression took him from me. Took him from us. I don’t have all the answers, and I wont pretend that I do, but I can’t shake the feeling that we could have been there for him. There stood a mountain of a man. A man who made us feel young, and spirited. A man who gave others such joy, yet couldn’t find any of his own. How he must have felt the last few days pains me. I’ve had a diagnosed case of Major Depression for five months now. I still can’t begin to fathom what life must have felt like for my hero.
Worst of all, it hurts me because his tortured spirit left before it could see just how much we all cared for him. What would tomorrow morning bring had he known this all yesterday, or the day before?
“It’s not your fault.”
It’s not your fault Robin. It’s not your fault that you were fighting your inner demons. It’s not your fault that you left us too soon. It’s our fault. It’s our fault for not stepping up to see to it that you were okay.
I have never lost a loved one to suicide. I’m lucky. Others haven’t had the same fortune. It’s a terrifying prospect – someone taking their own life. Yet it surrounds us. We can change it. We can alter the course of someone’s life. Don’t just reach out to those in need, reach out to those who aren’t. Be a better person tomorrow than you were today. You don’t know who’s life you’ll affect.
Genie, you’re free. I’m going to miss you.
Rest in Peace Robin. You touched millions. You changed lives.
You changed my life.