This piece is a part of the series 30 Words In 30 Days.
Yesterday at 4pm, I was chatting with a coworker about some ideas for a work project. We were laughing our way through the conversation when I received this text message from a friend:
Dude. Robin Williams dead. Apparent suicide. *expletives*
The immediate sadness was both unexpected and overwhelming. Based on my Twitter feed yesterday, many shared this same sentiment. I read tweets about friends breaking down crying in grocery stores and shopping malls and having to pull over to the side of the road in order to compose themselves. For some reason this loss felt deeply personal even though I’d never met Robin Williams in person. It felt intimate and close even though we’d never shared as much as a single conversation.
There’s no denying that Williams was a colossus in the world of entertainment. The breadth of his work reveals a performer who possessed unparalleled range. He could make us smile or cry or cringe. He could make us feel safe or adventurous or afraid. But most suggest that his greatest gift was his ability to make us laugh.
Robin Williams was a comedic genius of the highest order with an infectious joy about him that resonated beyond his words. It wasn’t just that he could say funny things; it was that he exuded fun from a place that felt so genuine and honest to all of us. He convinced us that it was hilarious because he so deeply and truly believed that it was; we laughed because he laughed. He taught us the power of laughter; its ability to grow larger than we could’ve ever seen coming. Like the title character he played in the film Patch Adams, Williams taught us that laughter can heal. He reminded us that to laugh is, in some ways, to live.
And so there is a tragic irony in the very real-life depression that eventually became too much for him to bear. His range as a performer showed itself to be true of his actual life. Maybe this is why so many of us were shocked at the news of his passing. His joy was real and so was his sadness. We the audience saw much of the former behind our television screens and just about none of the latter. But both were real. This was the range of his heart and his life. Maybe this is Robin Williams’s final gift to us – the reminder that this range exists in each of us. We are all full of joy and we are all full of sadness. Both have the potential to overwhelm and overcome us.
So whoever you are and whatever you’re going through, remember to laugh today. Lean into that end of your heart and life’s range. I know this is much easier said than done for some. If that’s you, please know that you’re not alone, this isn’t the end, and as far fetched as this may sound, there are still some laughs to be had in your future.
If you think you might be struggling with depression, please tell someone. Visit the website for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or call 800.273.TALK.