I am going to talk about Robin Williams, but this is not about Robin Williams.
As a celebrity death, his has affected me far more than any of the others. I have no claim on him—I’ve never met him; I’ve never even seen him from afar at a restaurant or in an airport. I am not feeling even a tenth of the pain that his family is feeling right now, but I do feel pain. Not only because his films were a big part of my childhood, but also because I looked up to him as a person. As much as he was suffering inside, he seems to have been the kind of man who was so determined to make everyone else around him feel loved and happy and important. That is the kind of person I want to be. I want to be the kind of person who just wants to make others feel happy, even for a moment. That is the entire reason I write. Because some day, some girl could pick up one of the books that I will eventually publish, and it could inspire her to get out in the world, to become a Big Damn Hero that she never previously thought she could be. I don’t need to inspire millions of people; but just that one girl with my book clutched to her chest? That would be enough for me.
After any celebrity dies, people begin to memorialize. People Tweet and post Facebook statuses, Tumblr explodes with gifsets and photos celebrating the lives and careers of these people. Right after hearing about Robin Williams’s death, I logged onto Tumblr and one of the first things I saw on my dash was a gifset from the Dead Poet’s Society. It was at the end of the movie, when all of the boys stand on their desks and said, “O Captain, my Captain,” to him while he’s leaving. And just like that, I found myself crying. Because the enormity of the situation hit me. This man, whom I have long since considered immortal, was gone. But this wasn’t just about him.
After a celebrity dies, you also inevitably get that one person—the one who does The Noble Thing and posts a Facebook status or makes a Tweet saying something to the effect of, Instead of just posting something on Facebook or Tweeting about it, why don’t you go out and actually show the people you care about that you love them? Before, I might have agreed with this wholeheartedly. I’d have fist-pumped in the air and said, “Yeah!” at my screen. But I don’t think I agree with that anymore. I disagree with it because it posits the way we react to a death as an either/or situation, and it isn’t. Just because I have posted a Facebook status containing the first four lines of a poem with which Robin Williams is often associated does not mean I haven’t looked at where my mother sits across from me in the living room and told her, “Mom, I love you.” It doesn’t mean I didn’t call my boyfriend and say, a little desperately, “You know that I love you, right? You have to know that.” These Facebook statuses, these Tweets, they are all a memorialization of a life. And if anything, they remind us of the enormity of what happens when a person dies.
This is the world confronting humanity’s mortality. I never have trouble confronting my own mortality—in a way, I feel like Death and I have an understanding that is the opposite of the Dickinson poem “Because I Could Not Stop For Death.” Death won’t be stopping for me; I’ll stop for him when I’m ready, and not before, and I have a lot I need to do yet. And he gets that, so he trots along behind me, never able to catch up, and he’s okay with waiting until I’m old and hobbling and finally slow down to wait for him so he can help me limp along. You’ve got a lot of time left, he says, and I’m willing to give it to you. Because what was it that Markus Zusak wrote in The Book Thief? Ah, yes. I am haunted by humans. If you haven’t read that book, you should. That version of Death is probably my favorite in anything I’ve ever read.
I’ve gotten away from myself. But while I never have trouble confronting my own mortality, I seem to have trouble confronting other peoples’. There are people you just start to think of as immortal, and then when something happens to shatter that illusion, you’re left standing there among the broken shards and wondering how you’re supposed to piece your world back together with this information. It happened to me with both of my grandfathers. And let me tell you, it breaks you in unspeakable ways to watch a person become less of themselves.
Posting a Facebook status or Tweeting about my sorrow regarding Robin Williams’s death does not mean I haven’t gone out to show the people in my life how important to me they are. If anything, I post something to reach out to other people who might benefit from this. Because it calls attention to his death, which calls attention to how he died, and I can only hope—desperately, fervently—that at least one person who is considering taking their own life will see the outpouring of love and grief generated for a person who thought suicide was their only way out. Maybe it will remind them that they are loved. Maybe it will encourage them to seek help because people do care out there. I can only hope so. All I can do is reach out to my loved ones and remind them—over and over and over again—that I love them. I love them so deeply and so fully and I want the best for them and I will do anything for them.
And you. Even if I have never met you, I love you. Even if you are just one of the numbers that pops up on my screen to inform me that another person has looked at my blog, I love you. You are worthwhile and beautiful and special and so, so important. Your life is worth living.
It boils down to this. This is not an either/or situation. Life is not an either/or situation. Grief is certainly not an either/or situation. Do not presume to know how I go about my life because I am choosing to mourn the loss of a man whose impact on humanity went far beyond the movies he made. I am grieving for the loss of a person who touched the lives of so many, including my own, and in doing so I am also making damn sure that the people I love know how much I care about them.
Please. Never be afraid to tell someone that something is wrong, and never be afraid to talk to someone if you feel lost or scared or like this life isn’t worth it anymore. I can promise you that it is. There may not be millions of people around the world who know who you are, but you are not invisible and you are not unimportant. It is amazing how important to the world that you are.