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Robin Williams and the Human Condition

He was one of my favourites. Actor and comedian, with the rare ability to be silly, witty and emotionally raw all at the same time. I’ve always looked forward to his movies, like a visit with a funny uncle. Knowing that even if everything else goes wrong, the sarcastic quips and that familiar twist-y grin will redeem a few moments.


It’s a tragedy when the world loses a human being, for any reason. We’re less for it. Less than we could be. Should be. I don’t believe that people are interchangeable, pieces that can be shuffled and replaced as needed.

As many of us as there are in this world, each of us has a purpose and potential. Some way to make this place happier, kinder, smarter, prettier – better. Some divine spark of our very own. Imago Dei.

I believe this so strongly I tattooed it on my arm to remind myself. Every human being – infinitely precious, entirely unique.

I can’t help but think that if more of us would truly believe this and do something about it, we’d be able to figure it out. Justice. Sustainability. Peace. God help us.

A few things I’ve learned in this past week… Every day 150,000 people die. At least a third of these deaths are unrelated to age. In Iraq, extremists are beheading children and displaying their heads on spikes. In Gaza, endless war feeds ancient hatreds with no end in sight. In Canada, 83% of disabled women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

And now Robin Williams is lost, presumably to suicide after years of struggle with depression.

Looking at the state of the world, I can’t help but wonder why depression doesn’t stalk us all.

Every time a celebrity kills themselves, intentionally or otherwise, the familiar discussion begins about why. Why, if they have so much, would they give it all up? As a society we’ve worshipped money, fame and power for so long that this seems like an anathema. These are the winners in our game.

But we’re all just people. Feeling powerless and lonely. Struggling with our worst impulses. Hurting. Hurting others.

Then someone makes us laugh. A silly little thing. And briefly we rise above mere entertainment – there is a flash of connection, the joy of understanding, the thrill of absurdity unveiled. This was Robin Williams’ gift.

He reminded us we were more than the dark and depressing realities. We are laughter and comradery and joy.

We’re all just people. Feelings. Thoughts. Dreams. With so much more in common than not. Learning to love and be loved.

I didn’t know Robin. Not really. I can’t tell you what happened to bring him to despair. But I know the world is less without him.

There’s a hole that only he could fill. There’s a hole that only you can fill. And one just for me. I haven’t plumbed the depth and breadth of it yet. But I’m trying.

And when the job seems dark and lonely and too hard to bear, I might pop in one of his movies. Laugh. Cry. And remember that we’re all just people.

So here’s me, grieving for all the empty places left in Iraq, Gaza, and Hollywood this week. But even more for all the empty places left by those who are just too afraid, or selfish, or messed up to step up and do what they were made to do.


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