It seems a bit silly, really. It’s not like I knew Robin Williams. I wouldn’t even have really labelled myself a fan; not the way I consider myself of a fan of other actors and entertainers. And yet he was such a part of my landscape growing up and I find myself unexpectedly saddened by his passing tonight.
I don’t know how many times my sister and I watched Hook. I think I actually gave it to her on DVD for Christmas or something just a couple of years ago. That movie taught me that growing up didn’t have to mean abandoning fun.
Aladdin, like the Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast before it and the Lion King after it, was one of my favorites. It’s still fun to watch because as I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten more and more of the Genie’s references and impressions so it always feels like there’s something new.
There are three movies I will always associate with my time in youth group – Braveheart, Shawshank Redemption, and Dead Poets Society. We were shown so many clips from those three, but I still love Dead Poets Society just as much now as I did then. As unrealistic as any movie about teachers is, I still hope to be at least a little bit like Mr. Keating.
What can I even say about Good Will Hunting? Just thinking about the scene where Sean tells Will over and over and over that it’s not his fault can make me tear up.
There’s another Robin Williams movie that few people seem to talk about (probably for good reason) but that has always stuck in my mind: Patch Adams. I remember feeling blindsided by the less-than-happy ending. As far as I can remember, that movie was my first experience with seeing a character I loved die unexpectedly. I’m sure if I watched it now I would see it coming, but in the moment I remember feeling gutted.
When I think about Robin Williams, it is not the hilarity that I remember (although he was certainly hilarious). Rather, I remember the poignancy. When you look at his body of work, there is so often a layer of sadness or tragedy threaded through the jokes and laughter. He knew the world was not a happy place and so he sought to brighten it a little for the rest of us.
Today I stood in front of my students and told them that I teach English because I believe that reading and writing are important. And while reading and writing are necessary skills for college success and employment opportunities, they are important for something much bigger. Stories matter. When we read (or watch) other people’s stories, we walk a mile in their shoes. When we write our stories, we amplify our own voices. Stories have power and I want my students to have the ability to both understand them and create them.
Robin Williams will not get to tell the rest of his story. I have seen so many comments online wondering how someone so full of joy and life could have suffered from depression. I have also already seen comments online saying he should have fought harder against his addictions, fought harder against his depression, faced up to his weaknesses and “moved on”. It breaks my heart because that is not how depression works. And I fear that his story will be twisted into something it was not.
Robin Williams was a storyteller. He taught us to laugh at ourselves. He taught us to never stop having fun. He taught us to seize the day. He taught us to FEEL – pain, delight, sorrow, joy, heartbreak, love, etc. His work may seem silly or frivolous or superfluous; it may seem unimportant in light of all the tragedy that surrounds us every day. But it’s not.
Telling stories is never unimportant. And I will miss his stories.