I don’t fixate on the life of celebrities, at least in comparison to our culture as a whole. Granted, I am obsessed with anything written by Aaron Sorkin because he’s nothing short of brilliant and easily the best writer of our time. Also, even a lesbian can recognize that George Clooney is preternaturally handsome. I mean, seriously, is he even real? I am in awe of Meryl Streep as an actress and watch every movie she’s in, but I don’t pretend to know anything about her personally. I recall thinking it really weird when I got up to get ready for school one morning in 3rd grade and found my mom crying because someone named John Lennon died.
However, I have to admit, the news of Robin Williams’ death totally threw me. I didn’t start sobbing or anything but I can’t quite wrap my mind around it. I know everyone my age has probably been saying this but I watched him as Mork when I was a little kid (LOVED that show) … and then in everything else as I grew up. Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poet’s Society (Oh Captain, my Captain), Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting – “I gotta go see about a girl.” Man, that’s a great movie.
So maybe it’s given me such pause just because this was a celebrity I grew up with, more or less? I mean he was a freakishly rare talent but still, it’s not like I knew him. Yet, this feels a little like grieving.
M and I were discussing Mr. Williams – she knows him only as Genie in Aladdin and Peter Pan in Hook. She noted that you don’t hear of that many celebrities committing suicide. I pointed out there are more who overdose, accidental and possibly otherwise, and even if it’s the former, “maybe it’s a little like suicide because if you’re that far into drugs …” I couldn’t think of a way to finish that sentence but she responded, “You’re not that far into life?”
I was speechless for a moment. She was probably just being literal, as she tends to be, but there was something deeper there. It’s an apt metaphor for both addictions and depression. They lie to you, they cut you, they cloud you and the world around you, mar your perceptions, chain you down and they hold everything out of reach. They darken every corner so that you can’t see any hope, can’t even imagine it. They leave you forlorn and despairing, it’s so much worse than merely hurting. They make sure “you’re not that far into life.”
I have an uncle who committed suicide several years ago. He had been the most severe alcoholic for decades, on and off the wagon. When he was sober, he was handsome, charming, witty as hell and extremely caring. When he wasn’t sober, he was … none of those things. When I received the phone call about his death, I was saddened and hurt of course and looking back over parts of his life, couldn’t help but think about all the wasted potential. The fact was though, he was never going to slay his demons, temporarily maybe but they were always going to be there. I suppose some people were probably angry with him, people who were going to miss him terribly and I don’t think that’s unjustified on their part. But all I could think was how tired he must have been. How tired he had probably been for a long time. I felt such an overwhelming compassion for him, for his decision. His demons ensured that he was never going to be that far into life. That has to be somewhere beyond exhausting.
But having compassion for how someone reached that point doesn’t mean suicide is the answer. I hope for those who have already chosen it that they found the peace so eluding them in life. For those of us still here, I hope we can help each other more, find the help we need more, understand more about depression and addiction, and for God’s sake make the help more available because mental health treatment in this country is grossly, inhumanely lacking. Yes, it will cost us money but right now it’s costing us lives.
I hope we cast light on the darkest corners so the people we love who are in them can see flickers of hope. I hope we can be that far into life, at least enough to not want to leave it.