He would tell us, ‘Carpe Diem’

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2014

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead…

As I drove home Monday evening, a cloud as dark as night appeared ahead of me in the distance. It seemed to stretch up from the ground to the sky in a wide column. From deep inside the column of clouds, sparks of golden light popped like a thousand flash bulbs going off.

I drove on, watching the lightning show, only half listening to the voice of the reporter on the radio until I heard these words, “Actor Robin Williams is dead at the age of 63 of an apparent suicide.”

The words sparked in me like a flash of lightning inside that storm cloud. As the voice gave details about the death of a man who made us both laugh and cry, I felt heaviness inside my chest, a great sadness.

The next morning as I read the comments about the death of Robin Williams, I realized many people from different generations were in the grip of that same great sadness. We were collectively mourning a man the majority of us never met.

Everyone had a special Robin Williams memory. For some it was his portrayal of an alien in Mork & Mindy. Others loved his standup comedy and for some it was his movie roles they liked best.

My personal favorite was his role in “What Dreams May Come. “ In the movie, he played Chris Nielsen, a man who travels to the depths of hell to rescue his wife through the power of love. Ironically, suicide and the pain associated with making the choice to end a life is part of the storyline of the movie.

That is what I kept thinking about as I drove on toward the dark sky ahead. What incredible pain a person must be suffering to decide that the best option is death. How deep must the valley be to feel there is no way to climb out of it?

Today, after reading the many tributes to his talent and to his goodness, I watched the final scene of the movie “Dead Poet’s Society.” With the words, “Captain, My Captain,” the opening line of the Walt Whitman poem, the students rise to stand in silent support of their teacher, played so well by Williams. How I wished in those final moments when he was choosing between living and dying, our captain could have known the lives he touched, what he meant to so many people and how many would gladly stand to support him.

There is much talk about the legacy of Robin Williams, how he made us laugh and made us think. I heard it said that his death would open a new dialogue about mental illness and depression.

Perhaps that was the final role he was born to play. Maybe his script called for him to leave us in a way that would cause us to think about and have more compassion for those among us who are living with challenges and pain of depression and addiction.

Of all of the comments and quotes, one tweeted by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made me smile and whisper, “Yes.”

Referring to his role in Aladdin, it said simply, “Genie, you are free.”

And, if he could respond, I think Robin Williams would say to all of us who mourn his passing — Carpe Diem!