Robin Williams starred in many movies over his illustrious career. But three, in particular, stand out for me. They don’t stand out because they were good. Or, because they were memorable. Or, because they were funny. They were all those things, and more! No, the reason that these three movies stand out for me is because they were life-altering! They touched me deeply and affected me for years to come!
The first is The World According to Garp. This movie came out in 1982, right around the time I was going through puberty and dealing with all the confusion and self-loathing that comes with it. Garp showed me that you can be weird, and sad, and funny and beautiful all at the same time. And, that it’s not just OK, …it’s human!
The second is Dead Poets Society. This movie came out in 1989, just after I lost my best friend in the air over Lockerbie Scotland. At first, Dead Poets allowed me to retreat to a simpler time in my life when it was just me, my friends and our barbaric yawp against the greater establishment. And then, it taught me (once more) to quit cowering and seize the day!
The third is Good Will Hunting. This movie came out in 1997, as I was becoming seriously disillusioned by life and love. I was dealing with the aftermath of someone else’s betrayal, deceit and substance abuse. Good Will Hunting let me know that all that bullshit wasn’t my fault and that it was OK to believe in something again. Turns out, that something was me!
When I think about an outsider's dubious view on depression and substance abuse I think about the poignant exchange between Romeo and his best friend Mercutio in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The scene occurs just after a skirmish between the Capulets and the Montagues in which Mercutio is wounded by Tybalt’s sword.
Romeo approaches his friend and says, “Courage, man. The hurt cannot be much!”
To which Mercutio replies, “No, ’tis not so deep as a well nor so wide as a church-door, but ’tis enough, ’twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.”
Romeo, flying high after having just recently found the love of his life, cannot conceive of the suffering that has befallen Mercutio. How can “a mere scratch” end the life of his ebullient friend? But Mercutio knows the truth. He knows what's buried deep inside of him. And, while that wound (like depression) may not seem like much to the naked and untrained eye, it's more than enough to “make worm's meat” of him.
I didn’t know Robin Williams personally. And, as it turns out, not many other people really did either. But, I do know that he affected my life in a positive way and that cannot be understated. I wish I could have thanked him. I wish I could have helped him. I wish he could have really understood what he meant to the rest of us poets here on earth.
Sadly, if we ask for Robin Williams tomorrow, we “shall find him a grave man.” And we are ALL far worse off for that!
So instead, do me (and quite possibly yourself) a favor. If you know someone who you think might be battling with depression or substance abuse, please break free from your misconceptions and talk to them about it. You might be surprised what kind of positive effect you could have. Otherwise, their hidden sickness could become a plague on both our houses.