by Frank LoBuono
It’s the saddest word in the English language and it’s heard all too often these days: Suicide. I feel this way because the taking of one’s own life signifies a complete loss of one of the most essential of human emotions – hope. It is the nadir of a person’s life. It’s a point that someone simply cannot go past. Suicide is an act committed in a realm beyond utter desperation. There is no one else to turn to. There is no other place to run to. There is no other medication left to take. There is no future. There is only pain, a panicked decision, and a descent into nothingness. This is life’s real tragedy. How can one lose the very will to live?
Robin Williams was a supremely talented and often troubled artist who took his own life on August 11. It seems that the passing of celebrities like Williams bring issues like this to the forefront – and they should. Williams was a transcendent performer whose manic demeanor, rapid-fire wit, and skill with words made him one of the most beloved entertainers of his time. Almost every person alive can name one of his film performances or comedy routines.
How could someone so bright, so enormously successful, who affected so many in a positive way, be so lost as to end his life with so much more of it left to live? Well, the answer is both complex and simple. It’s complex because dealing with the mind of an artist is a double edged sword. The inner vision that allows them to see things that others may miss also brings them to areas of darkness and desolation. It really is the other side of the same coin. It’s the concept of yin and yang: you can’t have one without the other. This is particularly acute in geniuses like Williams. Despite his public persona of constant laughter, Williams had a dark side and suffered from severe depression. Robin Williams was a human being, just like you and I, susceptible to the same joys and fears that all of us experience. Celebrity cannot shield someone from being human.
In November 2006, Terry Gross, host of the NPR program Fresh Air, interviewed Robin Williams. The conversation was both hysterically funny and breathtakingly prophetic.
One Williams quote in particular will make you laugh, gasp and cry all at once. “As the guy on the suicide hotline says — life isn’t for everyone.”
I’m sure there are people who will say things like “what a selfish thing — he took the easy way out instead of fighting.” Or, “why didn’t he seek help?” Well, none of that is true. It is not selfish. It is desperate, and there’s a difference. Knowing the effect it will have on others makes suicide a most difficult thing to do. And that’s very important because it keeps most of us who have considered suicide (and I think in fairness that at one time or another in our lives, in times of desperation, most of us have at least considered it) grounded and prevents us from acting on those urges. Lastly, of course he sought help. It simply stopped working. Ah, and there my friends, comes the desperation. All of the defense mechanisms that protect us deserted him.
John Donne’s poem, “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” contains two lines that explain my feelings at times like this: “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” I try to share in the humanity of it, if that makes sense. I FEEL for Williams. I sense his joy and his fear. And I sense his desperation – the desperate feeling that comes in the belief that only death will bring an end to suffering. Why do I feel this connection? Well, we all should because we are all human beings who suffer the same frailties. Just because Robin Williams was famous does not make him immune. And I would feel the same way for anyone who committed suicide. They are my brothers and sisters and I feel their pain. I would tell them that, even if it didn’t help, because, perhaps, it just might. Isn’t doing all you can do to save a life worth doing?
Therefore, going forward today I have committed myself to being a positive force in the world and in sharing that ethos. I will reach out not only to the ones that I know and love but to all I encounter. If this can turn one head, one hand away from the shadow of death, then I will have accomplished something. And, in a sense, Robin Williams will not have died in vain.
Frank LoBuono has lived in Nyack for over 30 years writing and covering Rockland County in print, on TV and online. He works as a cameraman and an editor for a major TV News organization. You can read his blog at Talk-Frank.blogspot.com.
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