Thoughts about the tragic death of Robin Williams

Last Monday I was enjoying the great city of Seattle, Washington, watching Felix Hernandez take care of the Toronto Blue Jays in classic Felix fashion. He was as dominant as always, and I was pumping my fist as the Mariners put up seven runs in the sixth inning when I heard the news: actor/comedian Robin Williams had tragically chosen to take his own life.

That news certainly dulled the moment, and then later when I had a chance to watch a little news and read a couple of headlines, the facts of his death underscored the tragedy of the moment. The comedian who could make anyone laugh, famous for his many Hollywood starring roles and off-color standup comedy, struggled to find lasting happiness in his own life. News stories emerged detailing his history of substance abuse and addiction, as well as a fairly constant struggle with depression.

On Tuesday morning, Facebook and Twitter were ablaze with comments about Robin’s death. People were sharing their favorite Williams’ jokes and movies, posting memes of him from many of his famous movie characters and linking to Youtube videos of their favorite movie moments. A comedy icon had died and no one was laughing.

By Tuesday afternoon the blog world was buzzing with reflection on Robin’s death (apparently I’m a couple days behind!). Many people began sharing their identification with Williams’ struggle with depression while others just shared heartbreak over his passing and the tragic sense of hopelessness that must have filled his last days on earth. It seemed like few people had any kind of beef with Robin, as a comedian, humanitarian or actor.

I’ve spent the last few days reading blogs, new stories and Facebook posts about this event and have reflected a lot on the sadness of his death. In doing so, I’ve had four thoughts going through my head that I want to share with you. I would love your thoughts and input to develop these even further.

First, and maybe most importantly, Robin’s death reinforces the value of every life. As a pop-culture icon, Robin Williams taking his own life carries with it a tragedy of news-worthy proportion, but it represents a story that repeats itself 110 times every day in the U.S. While his death makes more news because of his international fame, it doesn’t mean that his life was more valuable than the 16-year-old who suffocated himself because of intense bullying, the 13-year-old cheerleader who overdosed because of a naked picture of her gone viral or the 42-year-old dad who shot himself because of a lost job and the shame of telling his wife that he’d been out of work for months. Every life is valuable.

I wish all people who feel so grieved about the loss of Robin’s life, felt the same grief about the loss of every life! Created uniquely by God, humans stand distinct in the universe as carrying the marks of Image Bearers of the Almighty (Genesis 1:26-27). According to Psalm 139, that means God was intimately and personally involved in the inside-out creation of every human being ever conceived. And that means no life is made more valuable because of what it does or doesn’t do, any more than the value of a life is diminished by what it accomplishes or fails to achieve.

To be human is to be valuable.

Secondly, the tragic death of a celebrity always reminds us that people are, at their core, just people. Celebrities are not the iconic figures they represent on the stage or big screen, they are simply gifted people (in most cases) in a particular aspect of pop-culture. Something has made them popular to a large segment of the world around them, but that doesn’t remove them from their fundamental identity as part of the human race. We may try to make them more than that, but all our efforts will fail in vain regardless of the fame or “bigger than life” status that person may achieve.

Being human means being broken and having needs. Celebrity status seems to create an impossible image of someone; an image that may come from our own perception of what the perfect “us” would be like. In other words, if we could finally arrive at the perfect person, it would be the celebrity singer, actor, model or athlete that we elevate to near god-like status. But that person doesn’t exist, instead, all persons face the same reality from a sin-soaked world — we are a broken race. A casual glance at the world around us reveals the brokenness in which we all live: you, me and sadly Robin Williams, too.

To be human is to be broken.

Thirdly, every human being longs for deep and meaningful connection. In a day and age when connection is readily available, we seem hard-pressed for intimacy and transparency. I’m always amazed when I read the story of creation in Genesis 1-2, that after God created Adam, a perfect man in a perfect world engaging with a perfect God, that our God utters these words, “It is not good for man to be alone.” In fact, it almost seems sacrilegious to imply that being close to God isn’t enough to sustain us, but it’s a fact that God created us for connection, not only with Him but with our fellow man as well. And not just as a good idea, but as a necessary and fundamental component of our existence!

Today I spent a little time surfing Facebook, and I was shocked to realize how many posts were made in an attempt to make some sort of significant connection. One young lady’s post was truly a cry for help, as she begged people to engage with her thoughts or ideas. A platform that allows for unfiltered personal expression is not the same things has having intimate connection. (And no, I’m not making any judgment on the various forms of social media, I’m simply stating that mass personal exposure doesn’t expressly translate into intimate personal connection.)

To be human is to be in need in intimate connection.

Finally, as the details of Robin’s suicide surface, we must be compelled to see the people around us with new eyes. I wonder how many people noticed something was off with Robin, but chose not to reach out, or assumed that he must be fine because he is the wildly loved and successful Robin Williams? How many people do we know, do we see, do we speak to and do we pass every day who are “fine on the outside” but screaming for help on the inside? How many people reading this blog wish someone would care enough to look them in the eyes and ask, “how are you doing?” and then actually stick around for the answer?

As I’m sitting here at the airport writing this, thousands of people are marching by en route to some appointment, somewhere. Some are probably heading out to meet family, others flying to a business appointment, while still others, like me, are just trying to make it back home. Despite walking shoulder to shoulder with scores of people and making eye contact with thousands of individuals while walking the concourses at the world’s busiest airport, how many of them feel as alone as if they were they were the only person in the terminal?

To be human is to be aware of the problem.

To be super-human, however, is to do something about the problem.

Lasting change happens when people have a personal encounter with the personal God, and often, that personal encounter happens when one of God’s people embraces the Overboard Life and reaches out to someone in need. No, I’m not suggesting that every problem we face is simply resolved as a spiritual matter. Yes, I am suggesting that a relationship with God is vital to long-term health and true healing that occurs from the inside, out.

Because we are a broken people, we must find healing from the One who experienced the reality of our brokenness, without personally being broken. Jesus Christ came to experientially understand our condition, by knowing hunger and pain, heartache and loss and even betrayal and anger (Hebrews 4-7). But in His experience, He never once sinned or violated God’s sacred Law. As a result, we have a compassionate God who sympathizes with us in every way, and longs to fill us with hope, love, grace, mercy and healing. That super-human filling frees us to reach out to others who need the same touch!

Will you be the one to reach out to someone desperate for help, someone who needs more than a smile and a casual “how are you doing?” Will you embrace the value of every life and ask God to help you reach out?

Go ahead and take the plunge, others are in desperate need of what you have to offer!

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4 Responses to Thoughts about the tragic death of Robin Williams

  1. Tom Tanner says:

    Joe, thanks for this charge to get involved with those around us. Believer or unsaved, there are so many hurting in silence. All the attention Robin’s death has brought to depression may end up being his unintended legacy. Great blog! You have been missed!

  2. Laura Grenier says:

    Well said Joe!! A good reminder that the world needs Jesus and we can tell them about Him!!

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