I’ve struggled all day to think of something to write that didn’t focus on sadness, depression, or suicide. So many of us are reeling from the tragic death of an American icon, and this senseless and (presumably avoidable) pain has churned up so many feelings in so many people: anger, confusion, fear, despair, and determination to name a few.
My Facebook feed is cluttered with testimonials to Robin Williams’ genius, generosity, and humanity. Some articles reflect on how he inspired them, while others focus on the world we inhabit and the toxic mark it leaves on some of our most brilliant and creative souls. Others, lacking any ability to decipher this insanity, rage beautifully at the injustice of it all.
Yesterday, I got into a discussion with someone about celebrity deaths being blown out of proportion, while the suffering of “real” people was ignored. While I understood his frustration, I tried to explain the best I could why the death of a Robin Williams or say, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, generate such response among people who didn’t know them.
You see, all of us, I believe, support suicide prevention, help for the mentally ill, etal, in theory. What kind of monster wouldn’t, right? But many of us are lucky enough to have only a peripheral awareness of the specter of intense depression. Many of us have never known anyone who has attempted suicide. Many of us have never had to comfort the family of a person who has taken their own life.
For many of us, suicide and its horrible ramifications are theoretical–something we understand intellectually, but not in our gut.
Celebrities, especially those we grew up with, hold a singular place in our cultural consciousness. Because of the intimacy of art–of acting, writing, music, comedy–these people feel closer to us than they truly are. They become the friend who writes a song that completely expresses our romantic pain. They become the hero or heroine you always dreamed of being. Or, as in the case of Robin Williams, they become that wise, kind uncle who never fails to reduce the room to tears of joyous laughter.
When someone like this dies, suddenly it’s no longer academic. Suddenly, you realize you will never laugh like that again, or hear that song that expresses what you feel in such a profound and beautiful way quite the same again. The hero or heroine you wanted to be was just a person, just like you are me.
And we grieve. Perhaps out of proportion, considering the state of the world. But we grieve nonetheless, and struggle to make sense of things. We tell stories. We look for answers. We look for reasons. Sometimes, we look for scapegoats.
And for a moment, the tragedy is universal and so real you can’t even begin to avoid it. It’s everywhere. People suffer. People are in pain. People are confused.
We know this intensity won’t last forever. The frenetic pace of modern life will bring something else into the news cycle soon enough. But perhaps, the sucker punch of this tragic moment in our cultural history will help us become a little more sensitive to the pain of those around us. Maybe, when someone we know is depressed, instead of telling them to toughen up, we may reach out a hand to them. Help them along.
We live in such a difficult world, made more difficult by closed hearts and closed minds. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to.
And if your particular slush of brain chemicals makes that too difficult, please, reach out for help. Let someone in. Don’t suffer alone.
We are the world we live in. If we open to love and light, our world will open as well, and the sweetness of life will shine through.
Much love to you,