It is difficult not to join the global outpouring of dismay and grief over the death of actor/comedian Robin Williams. I think it is tinged with guilt.
How could we all have taken such great pleasure from this man, reveling in his eccentric, manic, energy and talent and generosity of spirit and yet leave him empty inside? Was he aware of how treasured his contribution to humanity has been? Was there anything that his many caring colleagues and friends who have flooded news media and social networking sites to express their sadness at his death could have done to help lift him from depression and give him a reason not to take his own life? Have we failed, as a society and as individuals, to be able to help people who struggle with depression?
Maybe we are not feeling guilty but we are scared, afraid to acknowledge that when we suffer mental health issues, no matter how much support we have around us, we ultimately are in it alone.
Robin Willams’ characters have given us sensitive glimpses into living and dying and being an integral part of this world. He left behind a treasure trove of images and words and actions that will continue to entertain and educate but will now take on an additional edge.
Glenn Close has been an active advocate for a group called Bring Change 2 Mind. Read about her work and take the “pledge” found on their website.
And finally, the full Whitman poem referred to in Dead Poet’s Society.
O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up–for you the flag is flung–for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths–for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
I opened my newspaper this morning to learn of Robin Williams’ death… I only know Robin Williams through his movies, but I’m a fan, and I felt very sad. How very tragic, that a man of such exceptional talent and ability to portray a homeless, mentally deranged man in The Fisher King (1991), and a gifted psychotherapist in Good Will Hunting (1997) should die apparently by his own hand! His quest for redemption and healing played out through his characters (e.g. Parry’s Holy Grail and Sean Maguire’s “Will, it’s not your fault!”) was unmistakable. But mental illness is complex and pervasive. Robin Williams was open about his life-long struggle with bi-polar illness. Only a person who himself lived with mental illness could enter into the hearts and minds of these characters, and fill us with compassion for their suffering. Somehow Robin Williams healed us through his art. He brought us joy and laughter. How sad he was unable to find healing for himself.