The Robin Williams In Your World
A person of great talent. Well respected by his peers. Children who adored him. A wife who loved him. He takes his life, leaving a void in the world that only he could fill. While these words hardly do justice to the amazing life of Robin Williams, they are not the person I am thinking about. They describe a friend of mine who, like Williams, chose to end their life here on earth way too soon.
What made my friend's death so unsettling is that a few months before he took his life he and I had a long conversation on the phone. Near the end of that talk I thanked him for all he had done for me over the years, and he said, "You'll never know what you have done for me, and we should get together and talk about it sometime." That meeting never happened, and I got the news later that he was dead. I learned that the months leading up to his suicide were marked by a series of events that people should have recognized were not those of a rational human being. But, we're all busy, and..... there will be time to talk later, right?
While I mourn the guy who thrilled my daughter in Aladdin, opened my eyes in Dead Poets Society, and made me laugh until I cried in Mrs. Doubtfire, the death of Robin Williams painfully reminds me that there are those we come in contact with every day in the workplace and community who are struggling with something... depression, lack of self-worth, feelings of hopelessness, or just believing that no one cares about them. They may cleverly hide it behind humor, a cold disposition, or a hyperfocused work ethic, but in the midst of small talk or a quick glance at their face, we can see that something is missing. And if that something goes missing long enough.... we get the tragic news that filled the Internet and airwaves Monday night.
There will be those who will counter with, "Williams had an addiction. You can't fix people like that with just words." True. But Williams, and millions like him, weren't always on such a violent path toward self-destruction. What would the impact have been if someone had reached them before they became so consumed by their demons? What if I had had that face to face conversation with my friend the day after we talked on the phone?
Who is that person in your world today that may desperately need a word of encouragement or affirmation that they make a difference in your organization, community or family? Don't just seek out the obvious ones. Robin Williams seemed on top of the world just a few weeks ago, but may have been contemplating his death a few seconds later. And like the humor and passion for life Williams brought us, that person in your world has a contribution to make as well. We need them... and you may be a part of ensuring they can make it. We've lost too many already.
This man beside us also has a hard fight with an unfavoring world, with strong temptations, with doubts and fears, with wounds of the past which have skinned over, but which smart when they are touched. It is a fact, however surprising. And when this occurs to us we are moved to deal kindly with him, to bid him be of good cheer, to let him understand that we are also fighting a battle; we are bound not to irritate him, nor press hardly upon him nor help his lower self.
-John Watson, 1903