The day after Robin Williams died, it poured here. I told my son it wasn’t rain that was falling on us. God was crying tears from laughing so hard: “I guess Robin couldn’t resist improvising 20 minutes of inspired comedy from the halo he was just handed.”
A dumb bit of saccharin shtick to soften the blow.
A few years back a woman asked me if I would redraw a portrait I had drawn of her son when he was in grade school. Did I remember him? I have drawn so many I couldn’t recall the boy she described, or the circumstance. Maybe it was a classroom visit or a school carnival.
“He’s gone now. I loved that picture and then I lost it. It really captured him as I remember him. If I send you a picture of him could you re-create the drawing?”
She e-mailed me a couple of photos. As I drew, I studied his open face. He could have been one of my own boys. Freckles. Toothy smile. Bright eyes full of mischief. I drew out his tender spirit as best I could.
Completed drawing in hand, I knocked on her door. Anxious to see the drawing, she threw open the screen door and waved me inside. I handed it to her, wondering if it matched her hope.
She studied it and studied it, and then she laughed a little.
“I love it.” She clutched it to her heart.
I had to know. “What took him? Cancer?”
“He killed himself.”
She said it as though she had said it aloud before many times. She could almost say it without her voice cracking. “Here at the house. Out back.”
For the self-dispatched, it’s over. For Robin Williams, it’s over. For the survivors, the pain is just beginning. The gnawing questions last a lifetime. You can’t bear it anymore? What about all of us who bore it with you? Why did you do this?
Williams demonstrates that even those with wealth, a loving family, caring friends, therapy and beloved status in their community cannot escape the gravitational pull of despair. It’s hard to imagine depression will ever lift when mental illness has blown out the candle of reason.
Alienated from the world and sinking in dark isolation, Robin Williams abandoned hope — and then existence. So did the sweet boy in the picture. “You captured the little boy I remember,” his mother said.
More Americans kill themselves than each other. No doubt Williams is in heaven entertaining the troops, where his tasteless, too-soon monologue on suicide will resonate with them. The staggering numbers of suicides in the military leave us weeping for the shattered.
Send a human into an irrational experience where participants are hazed into obedience, reassembled and thrust into a puree of carnage and what do you expect? Our warriors kill themselves because they have seen madness on steroids.
That other group associated with the killer blues — the poets, musicians, writers, and artists — don’t need war to teach the lesson. They feel the madness of life too acutely.
Many of us feel too little. In our culture, empathy and sentimentality are ridiculed and eclipsed by pernicious apathy and cynical irony. We yawn at gun sprees and bully each other online, and when we see a laser-guided bomb take out a school we feel numb and channel-surf away.
Statistics tell us we consume a lot of porn. Whose daughter is that? Who cares? Statistics tell us we despise the poor. To hell with them. Lazy parasites.
Why would someone with everything kill themselves? Who cares. Confront mental illness? Where’s the remote? Give me “Duck Dynasty.”
America’s jester-in-chief made a career out of mocking the madness of life. Little did we know he was being robbed by his mental illness of his singular gift for finding the absurd in everything, including his own suffering. Humor is resilience. When humor goes, there is only tragedy. Exit stage left. And that is why someone who appears to have everything would kill himself.
I can’t imagine what pain would move a young man to end it all. As I left his mother’s house that spring day, she hugged me and thanked me for the drawing. I left in despair over her lost child and in awe of her grace and strength.
I was glad I had drawn her beautiful boy smiling, happy and full of hope. In spite of the madness and the apathy, we must have hope.