Robin Williams Tells A Story
By Henry Rojas
I’m Angry. I’m sad. I’m everything but the one thing that killed Robin Williams, depressed to the point of hopelessness.
Hope is a story that must be told.
In the words of the late Jesus Movement rocker Larry Norman, “When you know a pretty story you don’t let it go unsaid. You tell it to your children before you tuck them into bed.”
Did Robin hear the story? Was he like so many who dazzle others with words yet are tripped up and entangled by the words that consume the mind? Over analysis, sensitivity and hyper-awareness are not character flaws. Those who say they are often times buy the theater tickets to escape their own world, tasting the fruit that is produced from those so-called flaws.
Williams told a story linked desperately between film characters as though they were breadcrumbs so others could find him so he could find his true self. Instead we discovered our own selves.
An alien trying to fit in a foreign land. A father disguised as a nanny just to be near his children. An executive losing love tragically and escaping in a world of mental illness. A military DJ shouting hope to a broken hateful world. A wounded healer guiding another toward mutual discovery. His roles told a story.
As a spiritual director and clinician for over twenty years I’ve seen my share of mask wearing. Robin Williams, according to all interviews, was not wearing a mask. Though he brilliantly portrayed fictional characters they were not unlike him. They are not unlike you and I. That’s why we are moved by the stories. Somehow their pain journeyed toward climactic resolutions, a resolution Robin Williams never realized himself.
In an interview by Decca Aitkenhead she reflects:
“His bearing is intensely Zen and almost mournful, and when he’s not putting on voices he speaks in a low, tremulous baritone – as if on the verge of tears – that would work very well if he were delivering a funeral eulogy. He seems gentle and kind – even tender – but the overwhelming impression is one of sadness.”
He was open and authentic about his bouts with alcohol-induced shame and regret. He was vulnerable enough to enter treatment and speak about it publicly. He didn’t glamorize his treatment. He did not seek to capitalize on his alcoholism with books, testimonials or endorsements for anti-depressant drugs. He just went to treatment, AA meetings and hung on to hope.
Robin’s story has reached its climactic resolution. Here are the words of a dear pastor friend of mine who spoke at a memorial, for a good man who took his life. Following a stroke he battled with unrelenting depression. “When Cliff met Jesus I believe he must have greeted Cliff with open arms and a knowing smile and said, “Hi Cliff! You were in a lot of pain weren’t you?”
That’s the story we need to hear. The story of something greater than ourselves. Not the religious blame or self-righteous comments that he was selfish. The real Robin Williams and others like him are filled with the pain of self. But he was not selfish. He just didn’t get to play his true self in his own movie. We liked his pretend self so much we didn’t connect the dots. Even if some did, there was probably little they could do. They need not blame themselves. We as an audience however, must not stand idly by because there will be other mask wearers shouting through their humor, tears and occupations.
There is a new story. The story of a beautiful life ravaged by the awareness that life is hard. Legends who have gone before us say don’t call this a pathetic end to a successful life. If we conclude this we miss the point.
I spoke with a man today who said, “Henry, those who have not been there don’t get it. I have been depressed for many years. Once I was hospitalized for thirty days. I’ve had eleven therapists and been prescribed a myriad of anti-depressants and nothing helped. What really helps me manage the depression is recognizing when I’ve been alone too long I must get up get out and connect; then I’m better. Real connection is everything.”
That’s the problem with celebrity depression. Where does a public figure go for connection? When they do connect, can those connections be genuine and trusted? In performance mode a celebrity is in his or her own make believe world. When are they truly able to escape there world of make believe? The answer is it’s only when they are alone,the very place my friend says is most vulnerable and dangerous.
So Robin Williams I believe was telling a story. A story we should tell our children before we tuck them into bed. It is a story about identity. It says we are loved by our creator for who we are, not for what we do. The story gathers all those characters together and says to them I hear you and I see you. To all of those characters we can say you represent all of us. We are in this together and you no longer need to hide. Your pain may never leave, but you will no longer be alone in your pain and that makes it more manageable.
Here’s the story. There once was a man who was born into a world of actors and dead men walking. He blended in by becoming like one of them. He did it so brilliantly that all the people thought he was acting and was making fun. Actually what they didn’t know was that he was being serious. He was telling parables. He left this earth and they continued to glamorize his work and his success. They were sad and cried as the final curtain closed. But some listened. They discovered his meaning and lived more meaningful lives. Unmasking, loving and engaging with something greater than their ravaged self. Somewhere this man lives on.
If we think the legacy of Robin Williams is in the films and the characters instead of his true self and message, we perpetuate the tragedy. Listen to the hidden story and it will bring life. My guess is Robin Williams was a good man loved by God not for what he did or how he performed but for who he was, a man loved unconditionally even without the mask. If you get it, tell that story. I think he would want it that way.