As news feeds or texts reached phones, iPads and computers, or coworkers reached each other's desks spreading the sad news, a hush gradually sank over the office like an encroaching fog bank. I work for a major entertainment company, one where Robin Williams had created iconic, beloved characters. Some of my coworkers were even lucky enough to have worked with him at a point in their careers. But, I knew the hush wasn't just because we were an entertainment company with thousands of tendrils that reached deep, far and wide into the entertainment industry. That hush that came over us was happening in other offices, coffee shops, homes, stores, schools and anywhere else where the news was becoming known. The reason, was that Robin Williams wasn't just entertainment. He was a part of us. He was our friend, psychologist, teacher, parent, schoolmate, and class clown who was always good for a laugh when we needed it. He was joy, surprise, understanding and for all of us who felt like we walk outside the fray, comfort in his fearless expression. It was as if he was able to reach inside all of us who felt we had things that made us "weird" and make it not just funny, but acceptable and likable. That is something that goes beyond talent.
What especially hit hard for me was how he died. That he had chosen it. That the weight of depression had finally become too heavy for him to lift and make funny. I couldn't help thinking, that if a genius like Robin Williams couldn't push past it, could anyone? What kind of world was this if Robin Williams didn't want to live in it anymore? I know intellectually that his reasons as well as illness go much deeper than that, but emotionally that's where it hit.
On my drive home from work, I was stopped at a long light and turned up the radio. I had it tuned to 106.7 where the song "Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers was playing. Even though I'd heard it hundreds of times before, it was as if I was hearing it for the first time. I sat and wondered how many people were like me, sitting in their car at a red light, hands slackening on the steering wheel as their eyes relaxed into a haze, taking in every word of the lyrics and trying to comprehend their sadness.
"It's hard to believe
That there's nobody out there
It's hard to believe
That I'm all alone...
I don't ever want to feel
Like I did that day
Take me to the place I love
Take me all that way..."
When the song was over, the DJ came on and answered my question. Through a barely composed voice, she said, "Amazing how a song can feel so different depending on what's going on in the world, and even though I've heard it so many times, hearing it now feels so different with today's sad news."
So no, I wasn't alone in my reflection during Anthony Kiedis's lament. The light changed, we all drove forward to wherever we were going. When I got home, I avoided the television and radio as much as I could, and stuck to checking the web every now and then. Mostly Facebook, reading my friends reactions and reflections. This one was hitting everyone hard.
That night, I watched "Under the Dome," and at the end of the episode, a melancholy, beautiful song played over a montage that perfectly captured the pallor of the day, and what I was personally feeling. I opened the Shazam app and held up my phone, the icon pulsed as it listened and revealed that the song was Coldplay's "Midnight." I downloaded the song at once, and later that night when I was in bed, illuminated only by the light of my phone, I played it. I listened to the lyrics as I looked at the song's cover art displayed on my phone. Two loosely drawn angel wings, so poignant.
"In the darkness before the dawn
In the swirling of the storm
When I'm rolling with the punches, and hope is gone
Leave a light, a light on...
Millions of miles from home
In the swirling, swimming on
When I'm rolling with the thunder but bleed from thorns
Leave a light, a light on
Leave a light, a light on..."
And, that is when my tears came for Robin Williams, and for the sadness that he couldn't keep at bay. For my understanding of that sadness, having had nasty bouts of depression myself. For the shocked rest of us when someone we know decides to take matters into their own hands rather than trust us enough to help them through their darkest hour. For the phone call that makes our knee caps go numb and weakness ricochet in our legs. For the hair-trigger emotional echoes that surface years later.
However, as I've reflected more on Robin Williams' suicide, I've decided to honor him by remembering the years that he did win the battle over his sadness and not let his suicide overshadow how much that man made us laugh. And oh my God, did he make us laugh.
So Robin, by remembering you with laughter and not sadness, we leave a light on.