Monday, 11 August 2014

Robin Williams. Are We Accidents Waiting To Happen Too?

I went to sleep a lot disturbed after watching a movie. That is not so unusual - if not a movie, it can be a book, a piece of telephone conversation that refuses to fade away from the mind, an unfinished work, or even the fact that there is nothing worth thinking about, working on, disturbed about.
I woke up to read about the death of Robin Williams. He was 63. I extended the disturbing thoughts to how much more quality work could have come out this talented actor. That is, if he could gather himself up despite his inner demons. And also, if people in his creative field of work could come up with the right kind of work for him. Perhaps he had left his best work behind him, much earlier in his career, and it is good that he fades away this way. Everyone has to fade away. It is good that he has left behind a lot of good work that would be remembered. 

But we wonder why he had to be a troubled man despite his 'success' in life. We are shocked to hear that he was so disturbed at times in his life that he preferred to talk about his failing health and alcoholism instead of the creative work that he was supposed to promote. He had played along for too long - kept up appearances, tried to be funny in public without fail, and even allowed himself to be featured in a tickle fight with a gorilla. We prefer to be content with it if they keep going on like that, and are shocked when we hear of Tony Scott jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge or of Philip Seymour Hoffman  losing his life in a struggle with drugs. There is even this idea going around that creative people are the ones who have to deal the most with their inner demons. But aren't we all creative in some way or the other?


Despite the range of characters Robin Williams had depicted, with the comical ones dominating his career, I believe the most memorable one played by him is that of John Keating, in Dead Poet's Society. I have made it a point to make a reference to the movie in 7 out of the 9 places where I worked as a teacher. It showed not only how a teacher can influence and inspire his students, but how disturbed a bunch of prep school students can be, and how difficult, and at times impossible, it is to save someone from a suicide. Every second counts in a distressed person's attempt to connect with the world, to find a straw to which s/he could fasten a grip, to cling to life. A release of creativity at a very young age may make someone immensely happy, but it may also make it impossible for her/him to go back to the banalities of ordinary life. Neil Perry, the character played by Robert Sean Leonard, has a great moment of glory, and satisfaction with himself, before his decision to end his life, much distressed by the way his life was to be controlled forcefully and veered to other directions. The images that stay in my mind are not the romantic ones in which John Keating could connect with his students or leave a deep impact in their character development through his creative thoughts, but his sheer helplessness regarding the loss of Neil. I believe that says a lot about our plight, as ordinary human beings who are at times in charge of other similar, creative, sensitive people in distress.


I just hope Robin Williams's life would be remembered mostly for the good work he has done. Sometimes, an artists' work merges seamlessly to the moments of his life and also death, much like what happens in Synechdoche, New York. The fight to remain alive is as important as the fight to stay in circuit, to matter something in the physical world. Success in life doesn't count in moments when one is tormented by extreme bad health or moments of depression. It is very difficult in other relatively trouble-less times, even for those who haven't tasted a wee bit of success in life, to consider their life totally worthless. If that were the case, those would be the ones who would be drawn to more ways of ending their life. 

There is much more to human life than what is projected to the onlookers. Let us respect that. And let us be alert to the signs when someone is losing her/his grip on life and let us try to be available, to be of some assistance in our own ways - though there is always the possibility that we are helpless in many cases, especially the ones in which old age, illnesses and depression break someone down. But the hugs we give others in their moments of distress are not totally lost. Those are stored in one's essence and are even carried to the grave while their cells are intact - they disintegrate for sure in the grave, but are apt to return in search of us when our time comes. I salute Robin, for the hugs you gave others, and I salute all those, including Koko the gorilla, who gave Robin a hug.



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