Oh Captain! My Captain, Goes Down with the Ship

“Reality: What a concept!” – Robin Williams

I didn’t know him more than most of us ever did.

I knew him from the screens from which I would watch him as a kid. I watched him as I grew into a man. A boyish man, but a man just the same. I idolized him. I am a comedian, though currently in a slump of performing. I am a comedian, among other things, as he was. Robin Williams inspired me for as long as I can remember. He made me laugh like no one else did when I was a kid. He was Mrs. Doubtfire, John Keating, Rainbow Randolph, Patch Adams and Peter Banning, to name a few, and yet so many other things. He had a fire that no one could compare to and that no one ever will. But fires that burn hot, will burn out faster.

Although I’ve never seen Robin in the flesh, I have seen some go by their own means in the flesh. I’ve watched the last moments drip from a soul who chose themselves their means of exit.

It is ugly.

To say it is sad would rob it of the true tragedy that occurs when it happens. I’ve seen the ripple of hurt it causes. I’ve felt it. To blame myself, most would say, is too much. But I’m a comedian. Too much is what we do. It is our burden to bear so that joy, if only for a moment, could be had by others. Our friends, our families and our lovers and more. Yet the better you get at it, the more you end up doing it for strangers. They come out to see you. They pay money to give you a shot to take away their own pain, if only for an hour or so. Yet any thanks you give them, any thunder of applause or roar of laughter will not be enough. It doesn’t last, you see.

To say that I knew his pain would be grossly incorrect. But I do know my own pain and I do know my own moderate success and how fleeting it can feel as it goes. Some nights, after a show, the feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment can fall from you faster than anything you’ve ever known. When the theater empties and they all go off into the night, it is only you and those thoughts, dark as they might be. Those thoughts that first propelled you to the stage, that threw you in front of that microphone to pour your own tragedy that you’ve twisted into entertainment. That you’ve twisted into art.

Now, let me say this. We are all part of the problem. We will get sad because a man who made us all laugh not only died, but decided to do so by his own hand. Yet, we (and I include myself) do almost nothing to make this world that so many, big and small are opting out of, any kind of better. All over the web people recall the laughter and warm feelings that a man on the the stage and screen had brought us. Yet we sit on our hands about fixing any of it.

If he thought the world was worth staying in, Mr. Williams probably would have stayed in it. You cannot say he did not try to do his part with whatever he had at his disposal. He did, and although I cannot say for sure, I will be so bold to take the guess that he felt as though he had failed. Whether he thought he failed himself or something larger does not matter. In the end, he felt and believed so strongly, that he failed. Our laughter fades and sooner or later, we’re back to our pettiness.

And trust me, pettiness is the privilege of those of you who can read this without a translation. Because outside of that spectrum, is suffering that we cannot imagine. Even if you see the pictures and stay slightly tuned to the news, you do not understand. WE, do not understand. We don’t live in a war zone. We concern ourselves with what we are going to eat today, not if we will. We have water that we waste flushing down the drain every time we take a piss. We don’t die by the hundreds from disease, or famine, or war.

No. Not us. We die from getting too fat. We die from getting old or taking too many pills that were supposed to make us happy. We die from smoking, or drinking, or drugs, or driving faster than we should. Rockets don’t bother us in our schools, our homes, our hospitals. Viruses don’t rip through our villages and towns. Religious maniacs don’t trap us on mountain tops to wither and die, or line us up in a row to be torn down by bullets and bombs. We die from gluttony much more often than from true tragedy.

I’m not naïve enough to think these words I’ve typed up will make anything that much better. I’m also not naïve enough to think that pouring a bucket of water over my head will cure a disease. A few dollars might help it along the way but it is the person losing sleep in some laboratory that will ultimately fix the problem. He or she, of course, will not get that much credit. After all, it is Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the dime, not Albert Sabin.

I don’t mean to guilt everyone though, at least not more than I mean to guilt myself. For even though I’m saddened by his loss, Zelda and Cody and Zachary are more upset than we’ll ever be about it. We can’t understand the way they do. We all idolized him, but to them, he was real. He was Dad. And what do you do when Dad gives up? I know I can’t say.

I’m lucky. My father hasn’t given up, even with all the hurt he’s seen. The least I can do for him, and Robin, and all the rest of you apes, is take what ever skills I’ve got and make a better world out of it. That’s what he did for me, some sad punk kid he’d never met and never will. My only hope, is that I can do just a little bit more for those who come after me.

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