There are moments in history that you know are moments in history. Yesterday was one of those days. Robin Williams died. Most likely by his own hand.
The Germans have a better word for it than we do—“Selbstmord”—self murder. And that is how I feel right now. This brilliant, electrifying comedian, actor and genius has been murdered and I’m aghast at the enormity of it all.
I have been reading article after article all morning in the vain hope that someone will tell me something that will make this event make some kind of sense. It’s not happening. Probably it never will.
Naturally everyone is posting on Facebook and I did too. I wasn't going to be that maudlin, but the fact is that I was crying, and it’s hard to be more maudlin than that.
Robin Williams was part of a first ritual with my new bride. I was stationed at Fort Benning, GA, a student in the Infantry Officer’s Basic Course. She was pregnant with our first child. But every Thursday evening we’d sit together on the couch in a crappy old trailer house just off post, and watch “Mork and Mindy”. For the next thirty minutes everything was OK. Life is just not as tough when you’re laughing.
To my kids, Robin Williams was the voice of the Genie in “Aladdin”. My middle child wanted to grow up to be him, and he would quote long passages from the movie. That was all well and good, until one night he was quoting Williams one minute, and in the very next was off on his own riff about a Superhero named “Beer Man” and his sidekick “Hangover Boy”, and they were fighting the evil villain “Mr. Coffee”, and his little dog “Sober”. “Quick, Hangover Boy, hit him with an ICE DRAFT!” My wife and I laughed until we had tears in our eyes. Unfortunately we were driving down the road at the time and it got a little dangerous until I got myself under control. We didn't grasp the irony then.
It was the Laughter. How pleasant. How memorable. How fleeting. That unusual juxtaposition of two thoughts that catch you totally by surprise when you first hear them.
So now I go where I always go when death catches me unexpectedly. John Donne. Poet, Theologian, Comforter. He said this: “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated.”
It seems to me that old Mr. Donne got it right, and this idea has become my place of refuge in times like these. I find that I am thankful that Williams left so much media behind. It makes it a lot easier to re-read his chapter. And as for his new translation? I guess I’ll have to wait until I've been “so translated” to find out.
I am just beginning to grasp that I now live in a world without Robin Williams. I ponder that thought with some trepidation. I've never lived in that world before. I’m not sure what it will be like.
So I’ll close this post like probably a million others will close their posts today and say with simple frustration and sadness, “Well Shazbat!”