I am wary of commenting in the light of Robin William’s death, for at least two reasons – while his work meant something to me, I didn’t know the guy, so I don’t want to intrude; and it risks devaluing other global traumas, invoking more compassion for one famous person than may be shown for thousands of Syrians or Palestinians. But as suicide is not an act exclusive to celebrities, and whoever saves one life saves the world entire, I feel I want to say some things.
I’ve not written much before about my own experience of depression, partly because it’s often too depressing to write about (!), and partly because it’s difficult to put into words. But I want to, this morning, because I remember the way Robin Williams affected me, and I feel I owe some of that back. In ‘Dead Poets Society’ and ‘The Fisher King’ particularly, I saw a vulnerable and wise soul, inviting us and himself to deeper levels of authenticity. I remember thinking it sad that his character in ‘DPS’, while capable of inspiring extraordinary lives among his students, was not able himself to take the steps necessary to live the way he dreamed of (blink and you might miss it, but there’s a scene where he reveals his love for a woman living in London – yet he does not seize the day to move there). The analogy with whatever torment led him to take his own life yesterday could be obvious, if we could be sure of it. But apparently one who brought so much joy and inspiration to so many just maybe wasn’t able to see it for himself.
Gather ye rosebuds, his John Keating would quote, and the boys under his tutelage would choose to step beyond what another poet called the narrow circle of self. They – and we – might consider living differently than our unconscious sociology would otherwise have determined. I was 14 when I saw ‘Dead Poets Society’ – just the right age to be marked by it. 16 when ‘The Fisher King’ came out, and I was compelled by a story of healing trauma through the mingling of a great romantic act with the very ordinary, very miraculous fact of friendship between two stumbling human beings. 22 for ‘Good Will Hunting’, in which it felt like Williams’ therapist was speaking directly to me when he said to Will ‘it’s not your fault’. Some folk – a little older than me – are ‘Star Wars’ guys. I think I’m a ‘Dead Poets Society’ and ‘The Fisher King’ guy, or at least it feels that way today.
Like I said, I haven’t written much about my own experience of depression before, and I don’t feel quite ready to say a whole lot, but today I want to reach out to anyone reading to let you know that you’re not alone, and whatever darkness you find yourself in, today is not your forever. The way to work yourself out of the pain is to walk through it with others. Fighting against depression does not work, because, as Richard Rohr says, oppositional energy just recreates itself. But asking for help transcends oppositional energy, and opens up horizons that you never knew were there, because until you asked for help they did not exist. A new reality is formed, and today becomes different than yesterday, because you have something you did not have then: a problem shared, a burden beginning to be lifted, a stronger bridge across which to walk.
I don’t want to say much more now. I do want to invite you to talk, especially if you’re feeling it today. Reach out to someone you know; or go to a 12 step meeting locally; or if you’re ready to take a bigger step toward healing, have a look at communities like The Mankind Project or Women Within, communities which have helped me name my shadow in the safety of a community of peers who see ourselves simply as people stumbling on a journey toward hope.
Someone once said that the purpose of art is to help us live better. Sometimes this unfolds subtly or in an oblique way, but in a couple of films, Robin Williams cut to the heart of it: gather ye rosebuds, and seize the day, and know that it’s not your fault. The rosebuds are right in front of you. Trust me. There are new ones every day.