Leonard Lowe: We’ve got to tell everybody. We’ve got to remind them. We’ve got to remind them how good it is.
Dr. Sayer: How good what is, Leonard?
Leonard Lowe: Read the newspaper. What does it say? All bad. It’s all bad. People have forgotten what life is all about. They’ve forgotten what it is to be alive. They need to be reminded. They need to be reminded of what they have and what they can lose. What I feel is the joy of life, the gift of life, the freedom of life, the wonderment of life!
Robin Williams died today and the world mourns a clown… a Fool who sought to bring joy beyond a veil of personal pain and recurrent depression. My heart is with those who knew the man, not the image. Those who loved him and who will love him still.
The quote is from one of the most moving films I have ever seen, Awakenings, in which Williams plays a doctor who finds a way to awaken patients locked in stasis and bring them back to life. Robert de Niro plays ‘Leonard’. In the film the two men become close friends before the miracle of medicine fails and life is again taken from Leonard and he falls back into the waking coma once more. Williams’ character is devastated, riddled with guilt and grief for his friend.
Robin Williams has always reminded me of a man who was one of the best friends I have ever known. He too was a clown, always the centre point of laughter, full of energy and an apparent zest for life and living. He too spoke out against the injustices he saw and quietly rolled up his sleeves to tackle them in a personal and practical way. He drank and used drugs to numb the pain. He saw the wonderment of life and the beauty of the world, yet he too was locked in, closed within the fist of depression. What he saw was beyond his reach, yet he could open the world for others to see.
The world saw the kindness, the tomfoolery and jokes, they shared his brittle laughter and few looked beyond that projected smile to see what truly lay beneath the sparkle.
He would call me at two in the morning sometimes, “Are you awake?” I would throw on a coat and drive to his home. We would talk… he would talk and I would listen… until the pain eased a little. I would hold him sometimes while he wept the night through. Or we would plan the silly jests and madcap adventures we might share. When I was down, he was always there for me too. He was always there for everyone except himself. Depression stalked him daily, he hated himself for it, though that hatred too was a part of the invisible illness that hid behind the mask of laughter.
He hated himself for the hurt he caused to those he loved, simply by being alive.
There were a couple of months when it had been very bad and I had sat with him most nights till dawn. He had sought help and taken whatever the system had offered, but it was a bad time. One night he held me on the doorstep, kissed me and stood watching me go. I drove home with tears streaming. “We never did get to Ashridge, did we?” he had said. “There’s still time,” I had replied, denying the pain.
I watched his face recede in my rear view mirror. He hung himself shortly afterwards.
He found the peace he craved for himself and for those he loved.
My friend’s eyes always held the pain, even in the laughter. The eyes of a clown with a painted smile that masked the inner darkness while he worked to bring joy and laughter to those around him. I have always seen that same look in Robin Williams’ eyes.
US comedian Sky Williams posted a Youtube video today; in it he says, too late, to a friend he lost to depression: “I’m not a miracle worker and I can’t promise you much… I can’t make the words go away, I can’t make you love yourself…and I can’t magically make you sleep… But I have a room we can hide in… What I can do is wait right here with you until you are ready, we can talk all day, or we could be silent. We can do anything you want, as long as you know that when you leave this room, and re-enter the world, we’re going to do it together, and I’m not going anywhere.”
I painted a picture of rainbows falling as waterfalls; my friend took it home and hung it on his wall. He would sit and lose himself in the colours and remember he was loved. For a little while. Sometimes that is all we can do… sometimes it is enough, even though it doesn’t make the world go away.
I am not a depressive person, I am an optimist. Yet I have suffered reactive depression when events have been too much to assimilate and those years were a hell in which any sign of life was an uphill struggle. Even then, you smile and hide and hope desperately someone will see through the smile, though you fear that too because it exposes the blackness; yet you hope someone will reach out and hold you in silence while the hurt eases. Sometimes that is enough. You offer the gift of laughter because it is all you have, the only way you can reach out into the world and yet, by its nature, it veils you from the eyes of those who would ‘be there’ if they could… if they could see beyond the smile.