“You didn’t know him personally. Why are you sad?”
Those words have been going through my mind all week. I have been suppressing my emotions, because I’m not supposed to grieve over someone I don’t even know. Like countless others, Robin Williams played a part in the backdrop of my life. Dead Poet’s Society was my absolute favorite film when I was younger. It may be one of the reasons that I became a writer. (It is so sad now to think back on that movie and the centrality of a suicide in the plot line.) Good Will Hunting touched me on a very deep level since I have suffered through some of the same things as the main character in the film. I cried and cried right in the theatre when Robin Williams said to Matt Damon’s character “It’s not your fault…” And then there were so many other films of his that made me laugh…
But an actor of some of my favorite movies dying is not enough reason to actually grieve I thought.
Finally, I read some articles about Robin in Time magazine tonight, and I just started weeping as if he were my friend. And I let myself weep. I let myself grieve because, damn it, things are not supposed to end like this.
Have you ever wondered why death feels so wrong, so foreign, even though it surrounds us every day? It feels foreign because it is foreign. It is not what we were originally meant for. Even more so, suicide feels absolutely out of place, wrong. Never, ever, was life supposed to be so hard that we wouldn’t want to live it any more. It feels foreign because it is foreign. We were meant for life. We were meant for love. We were never meant to die alone.
The question that is so morbidly ironic that I am asking is
How could a man who has arguably made more people laugh than any other person in our generation be so sad, so very very sad, that he couldn’t make it through another day?
The world is asking that question as well. All we can say is that Robin Williams was a man of paradox. He could play a magic genie and make you laugh until your belly ached, or he could play a professor inspiring a class to live life beautifully and make you weep. He was weak and strong, sad and hilarious, childlike and wise.
Maybe part of the problem is that the world only wanted one part of his paradox. The happy, hilarious, endearing Robin. People didn’t know what to do with depressed, quiet, hurting Robin. “You make everyone laugh! How could you be sad?” They might have said. “You have everything in the world! What you could possibly be sad about?” The answer for Robin and me and the thousands of other people who have suffered from clinical depression? I have no idea why I am so sad in this season. I just am deeply, deeply sad, and I don’t know how to fix it.
If Robin was anything like me, he hated the sad part of him. It was the part that drove all the people he loved away. If he was anything like me he believed that when you take away the lights and the creativity and the stage, all you have left is this person that is just as unsure of himself as anyone else is. No one is expecting that person. And so they reject you.
I think what we all need to do for each other and do for ourselves is to accept our paradoxes. To love and accept ourselves and others before we are ever perfect. Because we never will be perfect.
I might say to myself “all right Kate. I am looking at the first side of you, the side that everyone likes. You are creative and musical and loving and wise. I accept and love all of that. But here is the other side, the one you try to hide. This is the side that gets deeply sad at times and has a hard time trusting and is rarely at peace. This is the side that people don’t often like. The side that you think is the reason people reject you. Look at me, weak Kate. You are beautiful too. You are valuable too. I love you. God loves you. You are precious.”
In Esther de Wahl’s book Living with Contradiction: An Intro to Benedictine Spirituality she says “This polarity, this holding together of opposites, this living with contradictions, presents us not with a closed system, but with a series of open doors…We find that we have to make room for divergent forces within us, and that there is not necessarily any resolution of the tension between them. I find it immensely liberating and encouraging to be told that this is the way things are, and that they way things are is good.”
Let me be clear here and say that I don’t think we should live in sin. We should always be trying to move from “glory to glory.” (2 Cor. 3:18.) But while we are striving to be more and more like Christ, we should have compassion on the parts of us that we don’t like. We should also do the same for others.
Last year, for about two months, I went through a horrible depression, worse than anything I had ever experienced before. There were hard circumstances, but nothing that could explain how drastic my emotions were. It was obvious that it was less of a circumstantial thing and more of a brain chemistry thing. I had to keep telling myself over and over again “there is something wrong with your body. It won’t be like this forever.”
I was on staff at a church at the time. They were incredibly supportive through this depression, but I still felt the need to hide. I was afraid people would say “how could she be this sad if she is trusting in God? Does she even deserve her position of leadership?” For the most part, I put on a fake smile and led worship without anyone knowing. I wonder how many times Robin Williams did the same thing?
I can say firsthand that our Christian culture often puts a lot of pressure on people to be happy. Just pray more. Just trust more. They joy of The Lord is your strength. Have more faith and you will be healed.
It is this kind of rhetoric that makes people hide their pain. It is this kind of thinking that over time produces inauthentic communities. It is this kind of pressure that eventually could lead to things as drastic as Robin Williams’ death.
If we are not careful to accept the paradoxes of the people we love, we will produce an entire generation that hides behind our happy facebook status’, like this guy…
To end this post, I’d like you to close your eyes for a while. Think about your own paradoxes. Think about the things in you that you dislike. The reasons you believe people have rejected you. Now let God come in and hold you. Let him tell you that you are accepted and loved and treasured, even in you weakest places.
We don’t want people in our churches despairing like Robin did. So let’s create a culture where we love ourselves and love each other, paradoxes and all.