An Explosion of Mourning

Dead poets society

Robin Williams as John Keating in 'Dead Poets' Society', 1989


There are children being beheaded in Iraq, women being buried alive, and families dying of thirst. The Gaza Strip lies smoking in ruins. There are wars and rumours of wars; there is torture and persecution; there is extremism and hate abounding in this world. Each person suffering under the sword had a name, a bouquet full of dreams now gone, aspirations for the future, and hope for something entirely different that being killed by demonic hatred.

Shouldn't I be mourning for these souls right now?

Why has this death broken me so?

Why has the loss of Robin Williams torn open our whole culture, while we struggle to even inform people correctly of the deaths of thousands around the world?

Perhaps it's because Robin Williams, in dramatic or comedic roles, forced us to laugh.

We are feeling not only the loss of Williams, but it's almost as if we are feeling the loss of laughter itself. And without laughter, we cannot hope to face the other atrocities in the world. How can we?

The first movie I thought of when I heard of Williams' passing was 'Dead Poets' Society'. Playing the role of a rogue teacher, eager to show young students how to learn and embrace life rather than only bank information, his motto "Carpe Diem! Seize the day, boys! Seize the day!" has become a part of our cultural fabric as any theatrical line. In the movie, one young man does embrace life as an actor to the embarrassment of his parents. His mother and father have decidedly different plans for him; but sadly the young man cannot live with these carefully ruled plans. Instead of living their dreary humdrum day after day, he takes his own life after living the highlight of his life as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Williams reaction to the movie-suicide branded itself on me as a teary 12-year old. His character transcended acting, and brought forth Williams' own struggle with depression, addiction and mental illness.  He knew in that moment the reality of depression and the release suicide becomes when all else has failed. And he communicated that reality to his viewers with stark silence and tears.

It seems to me that in losing Williams, we feel as if we are truly losing light in the world that can combat the darkness threatening to engulf. 

There surely might be words of comfort we could share with one another, but not tonight. Tonight we need to allow the howl of mourning rise to heaven. Hope will rise with the morning, as You always promised, but tonight we need to face the reality of this dark world where mental illness wears away at even the most humourous soul.

But this we know: we will face the loss together. And in some random moment, not unlike Williams' own personality, someone will break into laughter over something trivial.

And the rest of us will howl.

Not with mourning, but with belly laughter rising from the gut, shining towards the darkness, embracing the healing that will see evil's downfall.

Thanks, Robin Williams. May you find solace and comfort and true rest wherever you are. 

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