Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thank You, Robin Williams

Image courtesy of Darsie
Every night at bedtime, I tell LO the things I am grateful for. He and his brother and his daddy are always at the top of the list.

Last night, I told LO that I was grateful for a man named Robin Williams.

I know that LO had no idea what I was talking about. He was wondering why I was sad last night and asked me a couple of times if my head was okay. (Since I had a headache last week, that's his go-to question.)

The reality of it is that I am mourning a man I never met. And even though I have seen an inordinate amount of his work (I keep recalling other movies and appearances that I had forgotten about), I never actually knew this man, either. It seems likely that very few people knew him, even among his intimates.

But Robin Williams was not just an actor and a comedian in the background of my life, and the lives of so many of his fans. He was the hub of a circle that reached out and connected a great many people.

I can remember watching Dead Poets' Society with my father and discussing the ending with him. Dad had thought it was the lovesick Knox Overstreet who might cause the teacher's downfall, but knew it would either be him or Neil Perry that would bring it about. As a 10-year-old, I had no idea that the movie was headed in that direction. That conversation with Dad helped me realize that my father really and truly understood movies and stories and that I wanted to have that kind of understanding of story tropes, myself.

My sister and I went to see Aladdin together in the theater, and we talked afterward about how we needed to see it again because we were laughing so hard at Williams's genie that we missed other jokes. I think of that time, when Tracie was still in high school but old enough to drive us around, as the halcyon days of our relationship. The friendship has lasted, but after she left for college in 1994, we would never live in the same house again and be able to drop everything and go see a funny movie together. We didn't need Robin Williams to bring us together, but for that particular afternoon, he did.

It wasn't until after watching What Dreams May Come that I finally sought out Richard Matheson's work. I had been meaning to read him ever since I learned what an influence he was on Stephen King, but it was Robin Williams's incredible performance as a man discovering heaven with his children and rescuing his wife from hell that finally made me read through Matheson's entire collection. I found Matheson to be incredibly and obliviously misogynistic, but I have no doubt that he and Stephen King and many of Williams's movies have had an influence on my writing.

And it was a short, sweet (and kind of racist) moment in What Dreams May Come that affects my parenting to this day, even though I was 12 years away from motherhood when I saw the film. Williams's character meets a beautiful Asian woman named Leona, whom he comes to recognize as his daughter. She reminds him that he once remarked upon the beauty, grace, and intelligence of Asian women, and she decided she wanted to be like that when she grew up.

That movie moment has stayed with me for years because it helps me to remember that you never know what your child is soaking up from you, and so you should always strive to be the parent you want your children to remember.

So Robin Williams connected me to my sons, even though they have never seen a single one of his films.

Everywhere I look back over my 35 years, Robin Williams is there in some form. From the Mork & Mindy reruns I used to watch after school to the films I watched with my family and friends to the stand up routines I sought out in my teens because I so loved comedy. And I am just one individual to whom he brought laughter and entertainment.

I am sad that he is gone, and sadder still that he was so depressed.

But I am also grateful. I am grateful for his humor, his manic energy, his lovely/sad/funny/thought-provoking movies, and the way he weaved himself through the fabric of my life, and the lives of so many other people. I just wish we could have had him for longer.

Thank you, Mr. Williams. Thank you for sharing your talent with all of us.

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