12 August 2014

Strong Enough For Another Day

A lot of people will be thanking Robin for the laughs he gave them. A lot of people will be citing the genie, the radio personality, the doctor and teacher he was so many times, the board game character, the father who dressed as a nanny, the Peter Pan, the comic, the alien, the cartoon sailor, even the post-modern Dante from "What Dreams May Come" as his gifts to us. So many memorable characters...

I liked some of his lesser talked about roles. My top three Robin Williams movies are: "Being Human," "The Fisher King," and "Toys."

In these movies he was broken, he struggled with finding the right words for the moment, with the pain of life. It wasn't some demi-hero "carpe diem" bullcrap, peddled by Hollywood. He was trying to effectively tell a story by showing the struggle without the triumph.

Not that the triumph can't or shouldn't be there, but sometimes, to understand it, you have to look at the struggle and not go anywhere else but into it.

"Being Human" is probably my favorite of the triplet and is the least available or well-known of all these: in it he plays several characters, all called Hector, throughout history. It somehow tells the story of all of humanity via the struggles that Hector has during his lives. There are many common themes: loss of one's home and family and identity, slavery, journeys made alone and the guilt one feels about allowing the world to leave you alone and abandoned and enslaved by its circumstances and the lesser men who ask you to suffer for their sake.

"The Fisher King," a retelling of one of the Arthurian myths of Percival, the only knight to have actually found the Holy Grail, but foolishly wasn't able to recognize it until he used it on someone else. He played a homeless man who lost his fiancee in a tragic shooting and because of his trauma developed a debilitating mental illness.

In "Toys," he plays a man-child named Leslie who recently lost his father, a toy mogul with a Wonka-esque toy factory, and has inherited it but must face his uncle's claim to take over the factory and his plans to manufacture war toys that may or may not actually kill people. It's simultaneously a commentary on war and father figures.

Each of these characters has a huge, unfillable hole that the movie insists on not filling, despite our expectations that the industry of entertainment has trained us to expect. It simply says, "Robin, here's your problem and oh, by the way, here's a severe handicap to overcoming that problem. Now solve it if you dare." And the viewer, who understands the story, is drawn into it and experiences that struggle and maybe the same fear, frustration, and discomfort his character does, while the viewer who doesn't understand the story disconnects and starts playing "Snake" on his Nokia.

These movies are all about redemption. They're all about the overcoming of great Sin, not the evil that the devil convinces you to do, but the traditional understanding of Sin as Error, the fatal mistakes in judgment that one or two beings make that carries this huge domino effect on everything else.

I connected with these movies because in the character, I saw the person underneath the actor; it was easy to see what drew a person to these roles. I saw Robin, not doing a really good job of being Robin Williams. And I saw a sorrow that I recognized as my own, I saw hopes lost and messages misunderstood and a deep kindness for mankind, despite having received deep cruelties from mankind.

Ultimately, I saw in him the man I was and I contrasted those roles with his more famous roles, the comedic roles, the heartwarming roles, and I knew those other roles...weren't all there was of him. That was just the face he put on so that people would recognize him.

His death affects me because "Mork & Mindy" was my first favorite TV show, a sitcom about a strange person who no one understood, but was fortunate enough to be protected, taught, and loved by a woman named Mindy who, nonetheless, did. What a dream for a misfit kid like me to have!

His death affects me because I see myself as Hector, I see myself as Parry, I see myself as Leslie Zevo.

Robin Williams death shows that there is no escape from what's hunting him. The Red Knight always catches up.

Three years ago, I lost my father. Two years ago, I was separated and spiraling towards suicide. One year ago, I moved into a house with my wife starting a new life of strength and hope. I may never overcome my father's death, my own regrets about the time with him I lost, my need for a dad, my own mistakes that hurt the people I loved, that dismantled the trust they had in me, my own failure to love my work.

Those who say his sense of humor was his genius don't understand that it was his armor.
Those who say suicide is cowardly don't understand what kind of strength it takes to deny it for so long. Those who say depression is fixable don't understand the problem.

I don't want to be happy all the time. Anyone who does is missing the point of being human.

I want to be strong enough to stand up for myself but also treat people with the kindness they deserve. Kindness that too often goes ignored by people who don't value it or unreceived by people who aren't used to getting it.

I am sorry that Robin could not be strong enough for another day. I am sorry for his family and it is a frightening thought that there, only by the grace of April (my wife), Madison and Monroe (my nieces), and a little fat cherub or two, go I.

And I don't want to go that way.