O Captain

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.
Walt Whitman

What famous figure, alive or dead …

I am sure that you have all played this game. “What famous figure, alive or dead, would you like to meet?”

I keep this at “famous” figure as there are many deceased relatives that I would like to visit with again. I would really love to meet my grandparents, now, as an adult. How different it would be to relate to these people and see them for who they really are rather than through a child’s eyes.

And when I look online at the choices people make they range from Jesus Christ to Lady GaGa.

Today my choice is Angelina Jolie.

Apart from being incredibly beautiful, this woman intrigues me. I know very little about the Brangelina stuff that I see on the tabloids as I check out of the grocery store. I have not seen the Lara Croft movies (or any of her movies, in fact) nor do I have any desire to do so. I have, however, seen television interviews in which she has surprised me with her insight, intelligence, eloquence and general “down to earth” demeanour.

I have been impressed that Angelina Jolie has used her celebrity to promote awareness of problems in the developing world and has even adopted children from these areas. She is a United Nations Special Envoy for Refugees and has worked for the UNHCR for some time. In some ways her adoptions have followed the principles espoused by Peter Singer in “The Life You Can Save”. Enjoy the fruits of your work and privilege but also share some of that with others less fortunate. She has three kids of her own and has balanced that with three more that were adopted from the developing world. She has struck a chord with me as I think she has made a genuine effort to use her celebrity to help others.

I am anxious to see In The Land of Milk and Honey, a film that will be released in North America next month – one that Jolie wrote and directed. The plot revolves around a love story of a Serb and a Muslim in Bosnia during the war in that country. I worked in Bosnia for several years and heard horrible stories of violence, rape and ethnic hatred that tore families apart. The film is fictional but the setting real. So real, in fact, that Jolie ran into problems getting permission to shoot the film in Bosnia as originally planned and had to move filming location to Hungary. The film was shot in both Bosnian (with subtitles) and English. I want to see the Bosnian version. I admire Jolie’s gutsy decision to tackle this subject and put her reputation on the line at the same time as writer/director rather than actor with a film that will not be a blockbuster but will explore a delicate topic.

But today’s news was the topper. Angelina Jolie has revealed in the New York Times that she has had a bilateral mastectomy in order to reduce the risk of her acquiring breast cancer after finding that she carries the BRCA1 gene for the disease. Her mother died of breast cancer in 2007 and she is at significantly increased risk herself, being found to carry the genetic mutation that will elevate her lifetime risk of breast cancer significantly. She has made this decision so she can reduce her risk and be available for her children. This must have been a huge decision for a movie celebrity to make. By being open with this Angelina Jolie has also done a great service to other women who face the same risks. Once again today’s revelation by this celebrity also strikes home to me as my wife died of breast cancer at age 48 and one of my daughters, already touched by breast cancer at a young age, has elected bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction to minimize her risk of recurrence. I was proud my daughter for making this difficult life choice and I can relate to the angst that Angelina Jolie must have suffered as she made the same decision (at almost the same age).

We often look at celebrity through a very tainted lens. We see them through Hollywood gossip columnists and papparazzi. But under the movie star veneer live real people who live with personal challenges just like the rest of us.

Today my celebrity hero is Angelina Jolie. I am free for lunch tomorrow if she is.