How can I not jump on the wagon and talk about suicide? Robin Williams’ death is a shocking loss to all of us, made even more poignant for me because a number of my colleagues met him, knew him, and admired him. I did too. I often pointed to him as an example, if such a thing could be named, of “functional multiplicity” especially when I saw him as the Genie in Aladdin. He could shift among persona faster than anyone I knew and with more pizzazz to boot.
In my travels this week, I saw someone wearing a T-shirt that had “10 Reasons I am an Episcopalian” on the back—attributed to Robin Williams. Only a few days later, I read of his death by suicide at 63—only two years older than I, and the same age as my sister. I remember the people whose lives have been too unbearable for them to continue who were my cousins. I remember my friends who could find no open door, many exceptionally creative, all tormented, all lost.
I remember the times I have considered suicide in my earlier years, and I rankle—no, rage—at Fox News’ reaction all but calling anyone who considers (let alone those who succeed) suicide “cowards.” If they only knew the heroic efforts it takes for a severely depressed person to continue. If they only knew. Just like every comic who overcompensates to try and force love and humor into his or her own life when there is instead an empty cavern, these Fox News anchors seem to rely on their assumed positions for emotional safety. The message is, “If only you were so fortunate to be like us: conservative, well-grounded in our beliefs and certain of our rightness, you wouldn’t crave the weakness of suicide.”
It is, sadly, a shell of a different color that can easily hide—for a time—the deep cavernous darkness of never feeling the satisfaction of applause for a job done well; the terrifying knowledge of self as unlovable; the internalized belief of being fundamentally flawed and defective; feeling like a thing made only for others’ use. We are, those of us who know, as busy as three cats: one looking, one digging, and one covering up as we scratch desperately to make meaning in lives that underneath it all feel as if they have no meaning except to feed The Thing That Lurks For Us: emptiness, internal annihilation, self-oppression, depression, alienation from love we can feel unless… unless, perhaps we are dissociated, high, drunk, in the limelight, medicated. We work incredibly hard, we face unhearable and unbearable stories, we wrestle with every fiber to quell The Thing That Lurks For Us.
Our brains are not on fire—though they may fire frequently, often, and with great light in our professions—they feel like little tiny peas that can’t even rattle because they mean so little. And so we are angry, or sad, or withdrawn, or covering like those three cats, trying to pass. It shows in our eyes, though, a deep sadness, a distance that Ajax used to call the “ten thousand mile stare” that afflicts those whose lives have overwhelmed them in some way. Robin Williams was a great light, a good man, and a beloved fellow Episcopalian. I beseech All That Is for his peace and ease, and for peace and comfort for his family. He was, despite the flawed logic of a self-absorbed news channel, a generous, giving, and gracious hero.
Who among us is invulnerable to the despair of years of effort and unrelenting work to overcome our darkness?
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