It was the first day of March in 1978. The bell rang and a bunch of excited screaming kids hurried out to the school yard. This normally meant baseball, football, jump rope, hopscotch and the like. But this day was different at Joseph J. Greenberg elementary school in Northeast Philadelphia. A phenomenon swept the recess grounds. Each of us kids was quoting our favorite television show by saying “na-nu na-nu” and sticking out their hand in an odd manner. These were truly Happy Days.
I remember this scene vividly. It has reappeared in mind after Robin Williams’ passing earlier this week. I enjoyed many of Robin Williams’ movies and count ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’ as one of my favorites. I was moved by ‘Good Morning Vietnam.’ However, it is this scene from my elementary school that I recall as the truest testament of the power that Robin Williams possessed
And that is the power of laughter. Robin Williams made people laugh. He made them feel good. He made them happy. What a beautiful and special power he had. And he used it well. How many interviews did Williams do where he would just go off on these incredible tangents that were hilarious? It seemed like comedy flowed so easily and powerfully through him.
That is why I find his death so sad. Here is a man who brought us such joy yet internally he was suffering. I feel sad knowing he was depressed. It seemed like he had so much yet there was something missing inside him. We all have all felt sad and depressed before. Yet for Robin Williams it was much more than that.
Over the course of the past week, I’ve read a couple of posts (post 1 and post 2) that have given me some insight into what Williams might have been going through. While I now have a greater understanding of his situation and thoughts, I’m not comforted. At all.
In some ways, I’m even more confused. I think I’m not only one. The last few days have brought up sordid rumors about Williams. He was in debt. He was using illegal substances again. Both of these rumors have been shot down by those who would know. Here’s a thought. We want to know why Williams would do this and were not comfortable with depression being the answer. It doesn’t seem to fit the picture we have of the man. It’s not neat and clear.
Anyone who has spent a few years on the planet knows life is not neat and clear. But maybe that’s what we want from our heroes. We want them to be a beacon in this challenging world. We want to have them help us through our struggles and challenges. Robin Williams did just that for many years. He did it through television, movies, and stand-up. He did it through his wit, energy and decency. Most of all he did it through utilizing the power of laughter.
While I believe that Robin Williams will be remembered for the laughter he inspired in many, his most meaningful impact just may be the conversation that he has inspired about depression. He deserves our appreciation – on both accounts.