My father (film director Tay Garnett, best known for A Postman Always Rings Twice) was fascinated by clowns. He talked about them, painted them, wrote stories about them. In even his most tragic movies, there was always a “clown” – a fumbling, bumbling, amiable and almost certainly drunk leitmotif of humor, designed to keep a story from getting too heavy.
But what about the actors who played those roles? My Dad said that every clown he knew personally lived a tragic life. That’s the part that fascinated him – how someone who devoted his life to making people laugh, could find so little to laugh about when he got home at night.
We could get philosophical about this, talking about the world of opposites, the balance of nature, the yin and yang. We could explore the connection between creativity and substance abuse, intelligence and depression, heightened sensitivity and chemical imbalance.
I think it’s certainly a truth that with great gifts come great challenges and sometimes great suffering. Could we even say that the greater the talent, the greater the personal struggle? Probably.
And yet what would that change?
Like most people I know, I’m still reeling from the shock of Robin Williams’ suicide on Monday of this week. Was there a funnier, brighter, more talented man out there? If so, I missed him.
To make matters worse, it turns out that this phenomenally talented individual also had an enormous heart. Robin Williams was extremely generous and an extraordinarily compassionate individual. I learned only yesterday that when his close friend Christopher Reeve had his life-altering accident, Williams redesigned his own home to make it wheelchair accessible, to accommodate his friend!
How is it possible that such a talented, funny and compassionate man could have known such intense suffering as to see self-destruction as his only option?
With all respect, could it be that he was capable of demonstrating compassion toward everyone but himself?
Or was he simply exhausted?
I’ll never know and, honestly, it isn’t any of my business.
Robin Williams gave me hour upon hour of lightness, laughter and joy over several decades. Now, with his death, he’s teaching me an important lesson on the power of compassion…
Let me never again envy someone their life, because where is the compassion in that? What can I ever truly know about someone else’s inner world?
Let me never again judge anyone or assume I know what they’re going through or what their life is about. Let me treat everyone as the silent warrior they may well be, and in this way, let me walk with ever greater gentleness and respect on this earth.
And, as I demonstrate a new level of compassion to my traveling companions on this human journey, let me not forget to turn that same level of compassion toward myself, especially in those moments when I’m finding it hard to like myself even a little.
Speaking selfishly, I have received so much from Robin Williams that I would have preferred his life to go on forever. I see now how difficult it must have been for him to have given what he did and how tired he must have been at the end.
Rest in peace, Robin.