Like many of you, I was deeply saddened to hear about Robin Williams.
The other day, I spent some time reading some heartfelt sentiments, tweets, and Facebook posts remembering and mourning this iconic actor. He was definitely the master of many personas — somehow so convincing, relatable even in his absurdity.
He was really a brilliant man. He entertained us greatly. We liked him. We laughed with him. And now we grieve for him.
His passing leaves me restless. He had so much going for him. He had so much more to offer. Why do this Mr. Williams?
They say he was in a perfect storm though — severe clinical depression, anxiety, the beginnings of a degenerative motor disease. They say he was terrified of what he was becoming. So even though he had more than most, it wasn’t enough.
If I didn’t grasp it before, I am reminded now. Depression is one of the worst illnesses to have. Those who stand on the front lines of this battle, you are true warriors. I can’t imagine anything worse than constant hopelessness, and fear that drives it deeper, in a world that is always asking you to be something more, something stronger. This is a real disease that we still are afraid to really talk about, and yet it affects so many quite indiscriminately, in and out of church pews, even those who by the world’s standards, have it all.
I don’t battle clinical depression, but I’ve experienced seasons of very real despair.
And although we all may not be vying for an Academy Award, so many of us feel we must put on an act everyday. Sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to put on that smile and to bear through things. But so many of us live behind some kind of façade every single day of our lives — a persona that says, look at what I can do, rather than see who I really am.
To show others who we really are takes courage. To let them inside and know how much we hurt and what scares us to pieces is not easy. And to lose the things that have defined us, given us worth or credibility or something to hide behind … is just terrifying.
I’m not surprised that Robin Williams, hailed with achievements and stardom, was at his core, a very, very broken man.
If we just trace our fingers back to the beginning of time, we know perfection has never been humanity’s strong suit. Frailty has always been a part of us. We are much more broken than we’d like to admit to ourselves and others.
Of course, we all have talents, strengths, and gifts that we bring to the world, to each other’s lives. And this is what is beautiful about humanity — sharing ourselves, for the good, with each other in the brief time our stories overlap. But I believe, none of us were ever meant to be stars. We were never meant to have our names on a Hollywood sidewalk or be solely defined by the applause of others. Humans were never meant to be confined to a pedestal.
I’m not in any place to make any judgments on Robin Williams’ life. I don’t know what kept him up at night and what tormented him those last days. And I never want to oversimplify depression, as I know there are emotional and physiological components about it I’ll never completely get. But I’ll always wonder why his particular brokenness pushed him into such inescapable darkness.
It makes me wonder, in this culture that surrounds us, will it ever be safe to be broken in this world?
Because when loss, depression, anxiety, illness or shame strip us down to our core, what is left but exposure and fear? What is left when you’re no longer comfortable in your own skin? How can we convince ourselves life is still worth living?
And if you make me laugh, I know I can make you like me. Cause when I laugh I can be a lot of fun. But when we can’t do that, I know that it’s frightening. What I don’t know is why we can’t hold on. ~ Rich Mullins
If we consider Christ, He knew the only way to bring true love into the world was by reaching down into humanity, becoming broken just like us, so we could have the chance to be whole despite our brokenness.
His willingness to be nailed down and crowned with thorns is heart-wrenching — but his willingness to feel deep, messy human sadness is profoundly moving. There is actually so much we can learn from Jesus when it comes to depression from this small passage:
And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. ~Matthew 26:37
Jesus “took” his trusted friends with him. If Christ, fully human but fully divine, needed the help of others, how much more do we? According to John Piper’s 6 Ways Jesus Fought Depression:
Find your trusted spiritual friends. Open your soul to them. Ask them to watch with you and pray. Pour out your soul to the Father. Rest in the sovereign wisdom of God. Fix your eyes on the joy set before you in the precious and magnificent promises of God.
Robin Williams was a Hollywood legend.
But perhaps his biggest legacy isn’t his greatness, but what he reminded the world about its weakness — that we should reach less for the stars and more to each other, with no hierarchy, no star gaze — with only compassion in our eyes, knowing all of us are in this brokenness together.
Even though there isn’t always a quick fix, I hope Robin Williams’ sad ending calls us to do more to make this world a safer place to be broken … a safer place to be heard, accepted, and find wholeness through the One who put the stars in the sky in the first place … despite our frailties.
Listen to this truthful song by the late Rich Mullins who was ever aware of all of this yet lived with strength.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. ~ Hebrews 4:15-16