Why Do I Stand Up Here?
My first solid memory of Robin Williams is seeing Aladdin in the movie theater with my family and my oldest friend’s family. It was a preview showing, and I remember thinking that it meant we didn’t get to see the whole movie, so I excitedly told Mandy, “And when it comes out in the theater for real, it’ll be even longer.” You’ve never seen a momma give a kid the “Oh, honey no” look faster than my mother. Silliness aside, from that moment on, a love of Robin Williams was born.
And he stayed with me all throughout my childhood, filling up my adult life at all the right moments, with all the right things. From Mrs. Doubtfire (“I saw it all – it was a run-by fruiting!”) to The Birdcage (“I made you short?”) to Dead Poets Society (I once gave a speech standing on a desk because of this movie, no lie) to The Crazy Ones (I loved the hell out of Simon Roberts), Williams made me laugh, look at things differently, realize it is okay to be weird, and examine life from every odd angle. You see, the people who teach us things aren’t always those we ever meet. Sometimes, it’s a writer’s work. Sometimes, it’s a singer’s lyrics. And sometimes, it’s an actor/comedian.
I remember the HBO special Williams did sometime after 9/11. I sat on the phone (the house phone, guys – not a cell phone) with my best friend for the entire duration of the special. We watched it together in a roundabout way. Dead Poets Society, when I first saw it, hit me hard – because I loved the idea behind it. I loved Keating and the way he was unfailing true to himself, striving to teach those around him to stop playing it safe and staying within the lines. There was such a ferocity and passion to his portrayal. There was such truth in it.
His death is senseless. It’s hit me harder than any other celebrity death. I heard the news while I was eating dinner, and I literally gasped out loud. Williams felt larger than life, a passionately funny man who was forever making people laugh. But it’s those people, sometimes, who are most vulnerable to depression. There are times where that bravado is an act, a defense mechanism, a deflection to keep people from seeing. I have plenty of friends who have suffered from mental illness. I have plenty of friends who are recovering addicts of all kinds. It is moments like this where we should remember to check on our people – especially those who may seem okay, but that haven’t been in the past.
Last week, on the anniversary of my mom’s death, someone very dear to me called to check on me and see how I was doing. It meant the world to me, truly. It made the day better. But I felt myself slipping into class clown mode a bit, cracking jokes and putting on an unplanned comedy show. It wasn’t intentional, and I knew that I was doing it. I just couldn’t stop it. That’s partly a defense mechanism. But at the time, I knew that I wasn’t fooling him at all. He knew I was sad. I knew I was sad. It was kind of an open secret. And it worked out okay, because I admitted it all later on.
My point is this: don’t let your pain be an open secret. If you’re sad, say something. If you need help, ask for it. Reach out. Reach out in whatever way you can. Call a hotline. Tweet something. Text someone. Email someone. I know that it’s hard when it’s dark. I know that it’s not easy when you’re in pain, and you’re surrounded by every devil that’s ever visited you. Fuck the devils. Fuck the demons. You’ve got people. And some of us my be far away – but we’re here.
Williams death reminded me, again, that life is too damn short, sometimes. And we would all do well to play hooky sometimes, love hard, love out loud, and make space in our lives for the little stupid joys that we too often attempt to shove aside because of expectations and obligations. Screw that. Stand on your desks. Write poetry. Spend the damn day naked with someone you love and who loves you back. The darkness doesn’t go away just because someone loves you. It’s not a cure-all. But love, guys, makes the darkness not seem so bad – it makes the bad stuff and the worries easier to handle.
Today, I’m remembering Williams as a man who made me love to laugh more than any other actor or comedian. Today, I am remembering my Captain, O’ Captain. And you can bet your last dollar that I intend to suck every last bit of marrow out of life. What about you?