Tuesday, August 12, 2014

You Go, Robin Williams

In light of Robin Williams’ heartbreaking early exit, I’ve been asked to repost a blog I wrote just after Christmas of last year when author Ned Vizzini (It’s Kind of a Funny Story) ended what promised to be a spectacular career with that irreversible decision that leaves the rest of us asking questions we end up answering ourselves.  It’s posted below.

Most of the responses I read to Robin Williams’ death were simply of sorrow, of missing and remembering.  A colossal talent was there, then gone.  Millions of us who never knew him took it personally, I think, because of the zany intimacy of his gift.  The guy could say ANYTHING.  And we’d let him say anything because the genius of his comedy was to show us the edges, and our laughter was of astonished recognition.  We appreciate voices of intimate genius because they help define us.  Now he’s gone and we just miss him.

But then the Todd Bridges begin to show themselves, just as they did after Ned Vizzini’s death.  Suicide is selfish.  It’s the coward’s way out, the EASY way.  Life is tough, suck it up.  Life is sacred.  Turn to God.  Well sorry, Todd, but that’s the EASY answer.  The lazy one.  The one that turns a complex situation simple so we don’t have to think about it any more.

If selfish were all bad, I guess we’d all be bad.  No one but Robin knew the cost of elevating us the way he did, or of elevating himself with our responses; all while trying to manage the roller coaster ride of that enormous talent.  Like all of us, only he knew how deep; only he knew how dark.  The nature of depression is that we can’t see out of it.  Medication helps some.  Anger helps some.  Connection helps some. 

Some finally say, enough.

I don’t know what happens next.  Maybe it’s worms and maybe it’s consciousness moving at the speed of imagination, unencumbered by its former container. 

In MY imagination I see Robin out there smiling, throwing an arm over Ned Vizzini’s shoulder: “So these two nuns decide to off themselves…”

Godspeed Ned Vizzini
(New Years – 2014)
Coming into the new year it’s hard not to think of the recent suicide of the talented and tortured YA author, Ned Vizzini, and the emptiness his loved ones must feel.  Little has been left unsaid by my (and his) gracious and articulate colleagues and I am tempted to bow my head and wish his soul a silent Godspeed as it rockets into the universe.  But some of the public responses to his death compel me to add some thoughts.

The folks who suffer the same crushing depression from which Ned must have suffered, understand, and their responses seem the most eye-opening and revealing.  The responses that bother me are those calling him selfish for leaving a young wife and son without a husband and father, or for committing the act from the roof of his parents’ house or simply for committing the sin of taking an early exit.

My years as a therapist working with abuse and neglect families taught me at least one important lesson for my own life.  Never judge until you can see through the eyes of that person you are judging, and then…never judge.  There but for the grace of chance go any of us.  When I was able to help clients who were experiencing what Ned probably experienced – and there were many times I could not – I could only tether myself to all in my life that was good and leap into the abyss with them– provide a witness – secure in the belief that, whether or not we could find a way to their light, my tether would hold.  It always did.

I was lucky.

There are those who believe life is sacred, that suicide is a sin.  There are those who call it a selfish act that doesn’t take into account the pain of those left behind.

But those responses say far more about the responders than they say about Ned Vizzini.  As much as we’d like to think life is sacred, there’s not a lot of evidence for that.  The universe is maddeningly casual giving and taking it.  Nothing about life is sacred until we make it so.  Each of us.  Our own individual lives.  And sometimes from inside that awful blackness it simply isn’t possible.

Rather than think Ned Vizzini stole from his wife, a husband or from his child, a father, I prefer to consider his bravery.  In the face of that dreadful darkness, he brought love to a woman and life to a child for as long as he could.  He wrote stories that allowed many who shared in that paralyzing experience to find connection, and so feel less alone; stories in which his characters found strength he ultimately could not find.

There are fates worse than death.

I didn’t know Ned.  I don’t know if he could have been saved.  I do feel cheated.  When I read It’s Kind of a Funny Story and when I saw the movie, I knew a powerful, embracing voice had emerged in our profession and I wanted more.

But he stayed as long as he could.

So Godspeed, Ned Vizzini.  Your life has been proven sacred by your works.  We know more now than we did before you put words to paper and some of us will use that knowledge to reach back to ease the pain of those who walk in your shoes.