Since hearing about Robin Williams’ death, I’ve been stunned at my reaction. How can I grieve over someone I never knew? I’ve paused to notice the richness he represents in influencing me and how his tragic death shakes me. Here are 6 things I’ve come to realize because of Robin Williams:
- Depression doesn’t discriminate. By most people’s definition, Robin Williams was wildly successful and had much to celebrate. However, “things” and accomplishments don’t define us nor do they “fix” depression. We are all human, even those we put on the pedestal who we want to think are flawless and free from darkness.
- Doctors’ greatest assets are humility and tenacity. In the true story of “Awakenings,” Williams plays Dr. Leo Sayer, a doctor whose diligence discovers a commonality among his catatonic patients. Encephalitis (swelling of the brain) is that common denominator and Williams works feverishly to find treatments for “these people who are alive inside.” Williams’ and Robert DeNiro’s stunning performances brought awareness to encephalitis, a brain injury that affects 20,000 Americans per year and taught us that we all count – even those who cannot speak for themselves.
- Laughter is a misleading medicine. Robin Williams mastered the ability to tickle our funny bone. His humor protected his heart as best he could while accepting the overwhelming responsibility of charming the world, even when he was suffering inside. My lesson from him is that I’ll listen more carefully to loved ones who divert from a fragile moment and respond instead with humor.
- Robin Williams’ characters shaped me. I’m thankful that Williams chose such moving characters as the English teacher in “Dead Poets Society” who led students by example or the therapist in “Good Will Hunting” who helped a young man reach his potential. His performances made these characters real and someone to aspire to be more like. These two movies shaped my thinking in how I want to emulate his ability to impact someone’s life.
- Suffering from depression shouldn’t be shameful. Although it’s not a weakness, depression is widely treated as such. Williams’ disclosure of depression, alcoholism and drug abuse are bothbrave and admirable as he didn’t tie shame to these personal battles. As a public figure, Williams had a choice in revealing them, and I believe his willingness to acknowledge these credits his character and is a gift to us all.
- Robin Williams walked the walk. Williams gave freely and “paid it forward” in his philanthropic interests to support Veterans, the homeless and literacy. He also founded his own foundation to support charities. Sharing wealth and walking the walk, such as Williams’ performances around the world for soldiers, signifies a selflessness that reveals his real heart. His altruistic example reinforces my commitment to pay back.
Thank you, Robin Williams, for inspiring us. For entertaining us. For teaching us. For leading by example. For raising awareness about encephalitis. For choosing meaningful roles that guide our thinking. I pray that you have risen above your pain.