Robin Williams is dead. I, like millions around the world, grieve his loss. For a moment, I wish I could be a genie and take him back to August 10th, and somehow give back to him the peace and rationality of mind that apparently was hijacked on August 11th. I’d slay the the beast that told his mind the heart-breaking lies that his family and all of us would be better off without him. I’d demolish the deceptions that whispered, “These people don’t know you; they DON’T care about you!”
If I were Robin’s genie, I’d turn back time and I’d pour all the side-splitting laughter he inspired out of my magic genie bottle. In that moment, Robin’s feet would feel the roar of the heavens. Next a tsunami of healing tears that millions of us cried would wash him clean of all doubts that plagued him. He would feel the healing release we felt as we related to the dramatic characters he portrayed. Through the characters he became, he taught us how to elevate our own humanity.
As the last tear poured out of my bottle I’d say, “Look! YOU did this! Do you know how many lives you touched, even changed for the good, simply by being YOU?”
I’d tell him life isn’t always hard, and the finish line is closer than it appears. Sometimes it’s “only” our feelings or brain chemistry, sometimes both that get in the way. At times, it’s an overwhelming fear of our future that hasn’t yet happened. More often, it’s our shame and regret we carry of our past that actually did. Our inner critic takes up the megaphone and bombards us with lies our exhausted spirit so easily believes:
- You’re disgusting.
- You can’t do this.
- You always make a mess of things.
- It won’t be long and people will see you for the imposter you really are.
- You aren’t loved; you’re not even worthy of being loved.
Our mind believes, even obeys the lies, even as our heart struggles to keep beating.
And sometimes—well, we’re just tired. Tired of the way things actually are, and how far our lives resemble the way we wish it to be. If only we could make ideal happen. That too is a lie. That would imply control. Even a genie in a bottle doesn’t have that kind of power.
Robin Williams could pull off hi-octane hilarity as easily as he could pull emotionally jarring serious roles out of the hat and bring his characters to life. You didn’t watch a Robin Williams movie once or twice, but three, four, five times sometimes more. They were that good. He had a way of pulling you into the story as you watched. He was a staple in our DVD collections, and will always have permanent residency in our hearts.
Robin didn’t shy away from the topics of the brain pains that so plagued him: Addiction. Depression. It was obvious he had a deep well from which to draw his inspiration from—his own mind. He even found ways to educate us about the perils of addiction and mental illness in classic Robin Williams fashion: taking on the subjects we’re not always comfortable discussing, helping us laugh about it, and perhaps learn something too.
Torment and genius coexisted in his world, but it one brief moment, torment took the lead. That is why we grieve, but it is not that moment we will choose to remember. To do that would be to dishonor his incredible work and his gifted soul.
This is the ugly reality of living with mental illness and/or addiction: It is a continuous attempt, like scaling a mountain, to just “be normal” while periodically, sometimes continually, having to live life while invisible lying voices (or thoughts) fight for control of your mind. Even when surrounded by compassionate, intuitive, and loving people, it’s still so easy to fall into the abyss. Sometimes even love is just not enough.
Simply put, when the brain is in pain such as mental illness, depression, or addiction, the “mind lies” simply overwhelm the heart’s desire to live. Checking out seems like a reasonable alternative; it seems like a possibility for rest, peace, and a reprieve from the pain that continually chases you.
If I were a genie, I’d try to be like the compassionate therapist Dr. MacGuire in Good Will Hunting: I’d tell all the addicts, the depressed, and the mentally ill people I know:
“It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault. Did you hear me? It’s not your fault.”
I’d keep saying it until they believed me. I’d explain the difference between faulty brain wiring and faulty choices and because I’m a genie they’d hear the truth because it’s spoken in love. Sometimes love has to break us, before truth can change us.
Above all, I’d listen. I’d sit silently with Robin and those like him in the pit for a while– if that’s what they needed, while they figured some things out. I’d ask them if they wanted to share their pain, because burdens are carried more easily when the load is shared among friends.
If I were a genie, I’d absolutely want to be like the character Chris of What Dreams May Come who died and would rather forgo heaven, risking even hell, then to not go back and rescue those blinded by grief, confusion, and loss. Chris knows what we know: Heaven without our loved ones is not much of a heaven at all. Yes, if I were a genie, I’d absolutely make certain that the lost were never abandoned.
But I’m not a genie; I’m a mortal. As are you. As was Robin. We have a heart of flesh capable of corruption and a mind vulnerable to deception and lies of a crafty and unseen enemy bent on our destruction. We get up each morning, drink our coffee, and step out in the sunshine and whistle a happy tune as we go off to war. The battle for our sanity, our incredibly limited gift of time, and the souls of those we love all constitute the daily prize we strive for as we fight to save that which could be lost. We try to avoid the landmines of fear and doubt and exhaustion as we fight an unseen enemy with courage and faith. It’s a daunting task.
We have to learn to let go of the shame of admitting our weaknesses, our vulnerabilities, our doubts and insecurities to someone else, perhaps even the world. Honesty, humility, and a sense of humor are helpful to manage daily life.
But when we’re in the depths of deep pain, it is essential that somewhere deep down, we obey that small voice that begs us to reach out and tell someone else, “Hey! I’m dying over here. Can you help a brother out?”
And when someone confides the depths of their darkness? We compassionate citizens have a duty to Stop! Drop (everything)! Listen! Get Help! The best window of opportunity to help the profoundly depressed or addicted is this moment! Don’t let the fires of depression or addiction rage out of control.
Only then can those we love leave their place of despair and journey towards recovery and healing. Then they can finally know in the seat of their soul, that despite any perceived gaps in intelligence, or flaws of character, we are all worthy of being loved and getting the necessary help we so richly deserve.
Robin taught us so much in just a few of these characters he became: The loveable man-child Jack Powell, compassionate Dr. Patch Adams, flighty Professor Brainard, Airman Second Class Adrian Cronauer, NDR14 Robot Andrew Martin, therapist Dr. Sean MacGuire, Daniel Hilliard a.k.a. Mrs. Doubfire, Penguins Ramone and Lovelace, Teacher John Keating, Popeye, a grief-stricken Chris Nielsen, and of course a loveable blue Genie whose only wish for himself was to be free. He taught us thru theater, but also as the man he actually was in real life:
- The nobility of teaching and serving others
- The power of healing by loving others
- The tangible help of providing a shoulder to cry on
- The blessed gift of giving others a moment to smile, or better yet a chance to laugh until they cry
Fly free Robin! And may heaven’s beauty exceed even your dreams!