This week the country mourns the loss of comedian and actor, Robin Williams, who starred in over 50 cinematic works of art. One obscure movie, which did not receive much acclaim, is now being revisited at an alarming rate following his death. Williams starred with up-and-coming Cuba Gooding, Jr. in the 1998 dramatic film, What Dreams May Come.
This film, based on a novel of the same name by Richard Matheson, gives the brain much to consider. Matheson was incredibly profound in his depiction of life after death and the eternal nature of love. But it is the dark subject matter: depression and suicide, which holds the viewer mesmerized. My experience coming from a family riddled with mental illness and depression has brought me up close and personal to this darkness. Kristy Horine shared a conversation she had with her husband, Eric, which spoke to this darkness, specifically personal darkness, which is the true nature of depression. “Some of us let it all hang out, some of us mask it with laughter or meanness. Some of us allow it to shape us into more empathetic and meaningful people. We wouldn't recognize the darkness unless there is the contrast of light, though.”
Robin Williams used the darkness which tormented his soul to spread laughter and love to people who recognized it as their own. His death reminds us that depression is a thick wall of sorrow and pain that can overwhelm even the most stalwart of characters. We, all of us, hold a bit of that darkness inside and struggle mightily to load up with enough light to overcome it. We refer to Jesus as THE Light. But not everyone in the depths of depression can make the connection to faith, to THE Light, or even to others, to see how they can end that inner turmoil. Too often we seek to allay someone’s sorrow with platitudes, positive thinking or admonitions to pray harder. Kay Denniston reminds us, “You cannot fix depression by “thinking positive” anymore than I can become a genius by “thinking I am smart”.” It is not easy, but there is help. There can be light at the end of the tunnel if we can remember to reach out to others for help. And we, who somehow manage to hold tight to our light, need to be able to recognize the need in others who are struggling.
Williams once said, “You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it." I believe he would advise us to feed that spark until it grows into a great light. I don’t think he was speaking of madness as true insanity…I believe he was simply reminding us that it is in our brokenness where light becomes able to radiate from within our depths. It is only by acknowledging the cracks in our own souls that we can truly see another’s pain and suffering.
Robin Williams’ light is gone and our world feels this loss. Mark Twain may have been right when he said, “All humor is derived from pain, ergo nothing in Heaven is funny,” but I truly hope to find laughter and joy in heaven. I know that Robin Williams is now free from the pain and darkness which tormented him on earth, but I hope he retains his humor. I hope he sits next to God in eternity and shares all the talent and insight, which God gave him, to entertain the Almighty for all time. Genie, you are now free! And just as Tinker Bell told Peter Pan, “You know that place between sleep and awake? That place where you still remember dreaming? That's where I'll always love you…” That is where I’ll remember this talented human being.
And, thank you, Kristy, for adding to your thoughts on darkness this prayer, “Oh Lord, help me be a gentle light today, one that remembers what it is like to stand inside that darkness and not fall away. A good and hopeful light.”