Gifts of Robin Williams’ Suicide

Even Jesus wasn’t wired to help us grow compassion while trying not to pee our pants with laughter.

Steve Roberts color photo: solitary stone being on hillside overshadowed by billowing gray clouds

Wow!  Think of all the great Parkinson’s jokes we’ll never hear, and never share with our pals, now that the zany lips of Robin Williams are still.

I daydream of him performing to a theatre-full of his new best friends: fellow Parkinsonians.  I see a packed house glowing with tear-washed faces convulsed at some take on their disease that is so irreverently funny yet on the money that they, and all the rest of us with working funnybones, might remember it forever––or at least remember how we felt roaring about it.

Even Jesus wasn’t wired to help us grow compassion while trying not to pee our pants with laughter.

That’s just one small gift set in motion by Mr. Williams’ demise: the need to look deeper within ourselves when a crack about Parkinson’s can boost understanding or salve a rough moment with a dose of mirth.  Whatever points us in that direction, the direction of our heart, is pretty sacred, I should think, since that’s where the only living that matters takes place.

Among the reasons to call Mr. Williams’ suicide a tragedy, as in an event triggering significant distress, perhaps the biggest is any choice we make not to learn from it.  Heartbreak and joy wear different masks, but they bring to the party the exact same gift: the opportunity to let that experience teach us to love more, expand more, forgive more, to deepen our conscious connection to all of existence.

Imagine God dropping by with an offer to fulfill any wish: no limits.  Big bucks, enlightenment, world peace, great hair––be as outrageous as you wish, He says, everything is on the table.  And we say, “Gee, thanks, no––nothing will make a difference.”  I wonder if that’s the level of depression Mr. Williams experienced at the time of his passing, and not just momentarily but chronically over a long enough period that it seemed permanent.

So far, I’ve been blessed not to know that depth of sustained emptiness, where there is not only the absence of light at the end of the tunnel, but also the absence of the possibility of there ever being any.  Given the number of those who, presumably like Mr. Williams, find themselves in that abyss, for me to think I’m bullet-proof is silly.  I’m not exactly afraid of the possibility; I’d just like to avoid the harm it can inflict.  The “time frame” of my existence, as I attempt to live it, has no end and includes countless incarnations in which every experience therein, no matter how shameful or idiotic, ultimately serves my inevitable awakening in conscious union with All That Is, and thus my service to the family of souls we’re all a part of.  What I pray to avoid is the utter despair that leaves me oblivious to the implications of suicide: the pain it will cause others, and the possible misplaced inference, especially by those who look to me for perspective, that I feel suicide is an effective means of escaping something.  That’s not a message I want others to feel they’re getting from me.  By my metaphysics, there is nothing we can avoid embracing indefinitely.  Sooner or later we make room for everything.  In that light, perhaps some suicides (not Mr. Williams’) are a kind of procrastination.  But obviously I’m no sage on the matter.

Speculation: Could it be there are at least three kinds of suicide (besides refusing to become skilled at learning from our experience)?  The first, which I’ve already taken the liberty of applying to Mr. Williams, has little conscious impetus, nothing that one is really attempting to accomplish, because it is born of that Bottomless Black Hole of No Meaning.  (To “Why are you killing yourself, Robin?” he might have replied, “Why not?” if he replied at all.)  The second, as I’ve noted, is motivated by the desire to escape: illness, shame, despair.…  And the third is motivated by the desire to embrace death as consciously as possible through a self-directed celebration of life’s completion.  My family is well aware that when, as Mr. Williams jokes, God calls with the news, “Your table’s ready,” I may simply disappear into the forest and freeze away…happily becoming supper for the neighborhood coyotes while surrendering my spirit (yet again) to the One.

Robin Williams’ death is such a fertile teacher because his life had such an outlandish impact on so many of us.  If I had to condense that impact to two ideas, I could do a lot worse than Anne Lamott’s observation that laughter is carbonated holiness, and Maya Angelou’s that people will forget what you said…but will never forget how you made them feel.

The power of those ideas isn’t just that they pertain to Mr. Williams in his special way.  It’s that they pertain to each of us in our special way as well.

We may not make others howl with delight when we tell the story of how the Scots invented golf, but we can surely develop our appreciation for the power of healing laughter and cultivate its presence as we do any other life-enriching practice.  And since energy doesn’t lie, when we speak to others from a heart softened by humor, our words will be the least indelible experience they take away.



  1. Wow, Love reading (taking in) your thoughts. They always seem to resonate. Thanks for the lights you turn on and laughter we can share.

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