Robin Williams died yesterday. I never met him. He was 63, and young by any measurement.
As might be expected, the "substance abuse," and "depression" commentary is flowing freely on all forms of media -- like animals in the wild. But while the standard mental health speculations as to why Robin left us might apply clinically, I want to discuss something deeper.
Words I hear being used to describe who Robin was, words like happy, nice, creative, and funny seem to me surface descriptions all. But in order to understand what Robin Williams and others like him brought to our lives, we have to move beyond the outward appearances.
It's not a coincidence that many of the creative humans we so cherish, today and in history have also been called self-destructive. Creative performance and the "being out there" of celebrity are often mistaken for vanity and narcissism. But I think many times the exact opposite is true.
Because of an outsized persona we often see the intensely creative, the poets, songwriters, actors and actresses as vain. But are they? These same ones are always present to support the most desperate causes -- for free, and all over the world.
We all know people who have that extreme zest for living life, for sharing every experience with everyone around them. But maybe they aren't manic, or crazy, or narcissistic. Maybe these people feel inextricably, intensely connected to everything and everyone around them. They know this in their bones, and it shapes who they are and how they behave -- completely.
The hilarity, humanity, and pure joy we saw from Robin weren't mere performance. Neither was it evidence of mental health challenges. I believe it was proof of how deeply he loved the human race, and what he felt it means to be a member of it.
From our outside observance of Robin he had the whole universe in his palm -- how could he throw all that away? Well, it can bring great pleasure to look upon a burning candle, to feel the warmth and the light. But it's quite a different thing to be inside the flame.
I believe that he felt a powerful and deep love for those in the world, but he finally understood he could never win the battle. He knew he could never save us, and he was weary.
Like other artists we've loved, ones like Vincent van Gogh, John Belushi, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Williams showed us the depth of his love for the people in the world. And not just through his art, but also through the visibility of his pain.
We certainly enjoy the intense and creative performances of someone like Robin. But often we think that while they entertain us, they do so out of their need to belong, their need to be loved. In truth what I believe is that Robin Williams gave himself to us freely -- to salve our pain, to dress our wounds, to show his love.
True enough, many whom we hold high as celebrities get plenty of applause and adoration, but I don't think this is why Robin Williams performed. I prefer to think it's what he was put here to do and that he knew that. And doing it so openly, and with such abandon his life became a way for us to reflect on how we connect to one another.
A man like Robin Williams could never turn off his core beliefs -- but he could also never win. So his love for us, not just his fans but all of us, is what caused him to burn so brightly -- and to end so tragically.
It's right to mourn him. We all will miss him. And his loss empties me today -- it likely will for days to come.
Robin was a gift, like so many other great ones before him. So just for today, let's try to stop fighting, stop competing to the detriment of one another.
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