When I saw that Robin Williams had died, I cried. A few silent tears ran down my cheeks at first. And then they just kept coming. Out of nowhere it seemed, I had grief for a person I had never met. This has happened to me when they are related to someone that I care about and know. Or when they have died and some tragic way — victims of social injustice or war, things like this.
But here I was crying for a man I never knew who had always made me laugh.
I’ve gotten in the habit over the past year of listening to comedians on Pandora online. Robin was one of my favorites to listen to. Through Pandora and Spotify I’ve listened to everything of his that is available on the free online mediums. He is hilarious and rash and crude and stop-you-in-your-tracks because what he says is not just funny, it’s true.
His films like Goodwill hunting have touched me greatly. Dead Poets Society is why my favorite English teacher became a teacher. People always laugh at him when he admits that, but he continues to admit it because it’s true, and really it’s a powerful movie for those that it speaks to.
I remember watching Patch Adams when I was young, and being fascinated with the idea that laughter could also be so real and so vital. I think that’s part of what Robin Williams was doing with his life – he was using laughter to get the real stuff with people.
I am at a pretty jaded point in life right now. I have hope, which is a new phenomenon again for me, but this past season has been a very dark and very skeptical one. I have battled depression. I have known the hard work of choosing to get out of bed and face the world for another day. I am distrusting of men. I am distrusting of friends. I am distrusting of the church. I am distrusting of church people. I am distrusting of pastors. I am distrusting in general.
But the church that I go to here in Granite Bay, Bayside Church, is a little bit different. They’re using the Miyagi method of doing one thing while really teaching me another. (Wax on wax off really is the karate chop.) And when I go to church and Pastor Curt Harlow says the funniest stories that I’ve heard in church, I laugh really hard. And before I know it, my guard is down and he’s talking about God and about what God has to do with me. And I’m willing to listen because he made me laugh first before he tells me the true stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff that sometimes hurts to hear, but that I need to hear.
I believe this is why Robin Williams was so influential to me, and many others. He made us laugh at inconsequential, very funny things. He even made us laugh in the midst of really hard things. But in his roles, his characters never left it there. The characters Robin played were those who made you laugh, and then got to what was real, got to what was at the heart of things. I’m pretty sure Flubber was the only one of his movies that I didn’t cry in. And this was true even before I really was a crier. He just had a way to, somehow through a TV screen, touch my heart in some of the most vulnerable, raw places. To reach me in my pain even as the character of a fictional plotline. He brought stories to life in a real way that made them affect me as a real person in the real world with real problems. He was an artist that was able to take fiction and make it important to those who were living true stories.
When I was young I had a book save my life. After my sister had passed away and had been trying to become her, in a way. The book Ordinary People was what caused a breaking point in me that was a pivotal moment in my story where I knew that I either had to end it all or had to start living as myself. This is a story I’d like to tell in detail at some point, but today’s not that day. But it was a pivotal point in my life, and it was a fictional book the convinced me that somebody out there understood me. And up until that point I had been convinced that nobody could possible understand. And the fact that there’s a stranger, an author who I had never met, who penned character lines and a fictional story, could understand what I was going through — that changed everything.
Robin Williams has played many rolls which have played similarly significant moments of “I understand” in my life. And not everybody can play those kind of roles. In fact, he’s the only one that I know of that does it as well as he does.
As I was reading the book Ordinary People, Robin Williams was specifically who I had in mind as being the character who made such a significant impact in my story. He was who I pictured being Berger the therapist who spoke truth into the main character’s life and, subsequently, spoke it into mine. I don’t know why thought of Robin Williams in that role, he didn’t play in the movie Ordinary People, but at the time that’s just who I imagined. Someone with kind eyes, who makes you laugh, sees through your bullshit, and then tells you the hard truth. Someone who understands.
I don’t know what Robin was like as a person. But as a comedian he was hilarious, and as a story-teller, he was influential in real lives, and he will be missed. His relate-ability in both the laughter and the seriousness were what continually made him a presence that I believe made people feel like somebody may really understand them.
While his fictional characters have touched me I believe the man behind them was the one speaking truth in a way that made it matter in real life. I believe the man behind them understood the pain of the world. And he was the rare type of man who could both lighten that pain but also validate it.
Rest in Peace, Robin.