Robin Williams died yesterday. You've probably already heard. He's supposed to have committed suicide. I happened to be at my parents' for dinner, along with all my brothers and sisters, so we watched RV and laughed and said a Hail Mary for his soul. There was wine. We made a toast.
Today and yesterday, my Facebook feed has been inundated with exclamations over his death. People can't believe he's gone. People are so grateful for all the joy he gave them while he lived. People felt a connection with him, even though they'd never met him.
They'd never met him.
We'd never met him! He's just a face on a screen to us! A blue cartoon face with a goofy voice behind it. An Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation. A bathroom joke so bad, it's painful. How can you mourn for that, how can you feel a connection with a face on a screen? Isn't that an indication of how superficial we are as a society?
We don't love him because he had an amazing sense of humor--although he did--or because he was a talented voice actor--which he was. We love him because he gave himself to us. He took whatever gifts he had been given and he used them to make us happy.
Sure, he was well paid for it. But he was paid because we loved him, not the other way around. If you don't believe me, take some random millionaire and put them in front of a camera and tell them to make us laugh the way Robin Williams did. See how well that works.
It's a mad thing to do, to try to make other people happy, because it invariably hurts us in some way, at some time. Well-paid or not, ask any artist and they will tell you: art hurts. It hurts to dig down to the raw, messy depths of your soul to find it, it hurts to sacrifice your sleep and fun and sometimes health to make it, and it hurts like hell to put your art out there where other people can see it with all its flaws and terrible beauty, on a page or a gallery wall or a blurry 90's television screen.
But when you are an artist, you do those things anyway, because you want to give more than you want to be whole.
And in addition to being a talented actor and a really funny guy, Robin Williams was an artist.
We love him because he made us laugh. We love him because he gave us joy. And folks, when you and I die, if the circle of people we touched with our lives, whether big or small, can raise a glass and say a prayer and remember us for giving them joy, I think that wherever we are on the other side, we will be blessed.