I know next to nothing of Mr. Williams’ health history and have followed news of his death only in passing. It’s not that I don’t care. It’s just, like the Williams we’re all suddenly becoming better acquainted with, I have my own struggles demanding my attention.
Truly, I’ve always felt the allure of Williams as a performer and human being. As a young comedian crashing into the nation’s psyche via the Mork and Mindy show, his high-energy antics communicated to my young mind the stimulating possibilities of life itself. In later performances, he exuded an almost palpable sense of compassion and tenderness betraying the perfect frailty of human existence.
While bad acting can so often feel like the clumsy fabrication of a life from dead matter (thinking Nick Cage here in his more Frankenstein monster moments), the good stuff springs from the deepest parts of a person and seems to tap into a shared emotive energy that binds all people. We recognize ourselves when gifted with such performances.
What came from Williams, I choose to believe, came from inside of him. It was earned (it would seem) in the forge of his own suffering, a suffering that concluded this week with his final decision: the decision to silence the pain by extinguishing his own life.
That decision has been kicked around in public for days now by a good number of commentators and supposed friends. And, in almost every case, these people just need to shut the fuck up.
Those who haven’t been touched by major depression have about as much right to pontificate on suicide as the able-bodied have to speak on behalf of those living with cerebral palsy. And, honestly, they’re about as good at it as any of the millions of inert and unredeemed Flubber DVD cases gathering dust in what I imagine to be Hollywood’s vast commercial caverns (sorry, Robin).
Until this morning I’ve been able to ignore nearly all the chatter. Yesterday, a self-justified Christian-oriented bleating on The Blaze blaming Williams raised my ire but didn’t surprise me. One more heckler taking pot shots at the “godless.” (I won’t dignify the site with a link and potential additional web traffic; you’ll have to seek it out your own self.)
This morning, however, I stumbled upon a short post by Williams’ purported friend Peter Coyote. Sadly, the actor-cum-Buddhist priest delivered a very similar analysis to that of the Blaze, albeit dressed in the saffron robes of mindfulness. I snapped. Putting aside my writing assignments for the day, I weighed in–a little too enthusiastically for the curator of the Facebook feed promoting Coyote’s sermonette, perhaps.
The quick and dirty of Coyote’s post is this: Williams, gifted as he was, didn’t take the time to develop balance in his life through (it is suggested) diligent meditation and reflection. Hence, his death is his own fault and stands as a warning to us all to practice better self care.
You can Coyote’s post here:
I would suggest that Mr. Coyote’s attempt to deliver a “teachable moment” so suddenly on the heels of Williams’ death is not only in bad taste but also displays some misunderstandings about the nature of the brain and depression.
In fact, I read this post as being only a few degrees removed from some of the aforementioned fundamentalist Christian rants about suicide being a choice displaying one’s fallen state or lack of faith. While his understanding of the wily nature of the brain is perhaps considerable, Coyote needs to understand that there is suffering that even studied practice does not reach.
Some folks inherit (or develop through injury, trauma, or environmental exposures) brains that are hobbled in some way, much like someone born with malformed bone structure or who develop a physically degenerative disorder later in life.
While most folks would find walking the line at a police sobriety field check fairly simple (assuming they haven’t been drinking) such a performance would present significant difficulty for those who hip girdle or leg bones have solid kinks built into them.
Should Robin Williams have spent more time meditating? Maybe. Is Coyote insulting and diminishing Williams’ struggle (and, consequently, the struggle of all those with living with the physical illness of major depression) by suggesting that Williams should have just worked a little harder? Absolutely.
Those who have not lived with life-threatening depression–those who have not been to the place where ending one’s own life seems to be the best, possibly the only solution–have remarkably little to offer on the subject, ultimately. And those who assume that they do because of their credentials–be they spiritual, academic, or Google rankings–almost always advance injury.
Now that he has so readily offered his critique of Williams’ life walk, I hope Mr. Coyote also finds the time to grieve the death of his friend.
For the rest of us, I hope we can turn our dialogue to the nature of suffering, the power of addiction, and the reality of mental illness. With all of Williams’ resources, even he couldn’t find relief from the forces that badgered him to the point that death seemed to be the only avenue to peace.
At the shallower end of the economic pool those resources are scarce, indeed. I personally went to the local MHMR months ago only to be talked out of filing for assistance because, I was told, the wait to see a doctor would be up to five months. Why clog the system?
On the heels of Williams’ death, questions about the limits of the scientific understanding of depression seem like a logical place to direct coverage. Perhaps exploring the many failures of popular medical intervention would yield editorial fruit. There are tales to be told–and ones that have the real potential to assist those who continue to suffer and stain against the incessant pull of suicidal impulse.
But to stand on news of Williams’ death to pontificate before the man’s body is even in the ground? I just have to shake my head in disgust.
Williams showed my younger self a vibrant world buzzing with potential. And while the world I’ve grown to inhabit is more quixotic than I could have anticipated, it’s one that’s been undeniably enriched by Williams decision to share himself with the world.
For now and for the days that are to come I choose simply celebrate his life without judgement.