The Heavy Toll of
Making Us Laugh
The suicide of Robin Williams provoked a global outpour of grief and sadness, as the beloved comedian chose to end it all in such a brutal manner. Equally intense has been the dutiful warnings about the nefarious impact of long-term depression on any individual, even one whose special talent was to make everyone else happy.
But despite all the proper sobriety and legitimate hurt feelings we all felt about Williams’s self-inflicted demise, almost immediately after the news broke and even before we could process such untimely loss, there was already an army of ‘feeling-goods’ trying to make us ‘move on’ and not to dwell ‘too much’ on his death, and focus instead on his life work.
In one side, it’s an admirable effort, that of focusing on the person’s legacy rather than the circumstances of his passing, or even death itself, lest not reduce a lifetime of extraordinary humanistic accomplishments, into the demeaning mechanics of a final act. But in all that, there’s something else less noble apace, too.
It’s Americans’ seemingly pathological fear of acknowledging death that is troubling. For we tend to trample nature and fail to give the grieving process its due, rushing to bottle up and put a lid on any semblance of loss, in exchange for a quick return to normality and the happy ever after.
Such fear of feeling bad or appear ‘weak’ for showing emotions is rooted deeply in the culture, and can be traced back to the stoicism of pioneers and pilgrims who braved the vast land and tamed its formidable elements, to carve a nation out of brute force. Displays of vulnerability were simply not an option, then.
It extends to our familial ties and how we value the sole heroic dare over the community drive, the individualistic gesture instead of the search for consensus. It’s at the foundations of women’s oppression, as they must not only have to appear sensual and attractive, but also be perfect mates, good sports, and ruthless professionals, all done with 70% of the earning power of their male counterparts.
THE DICTATORSHIP OF HAPPINESS
It’s infected our workplaces, with the emergence of the chief happiness officer, on duty 24/7, and a geek chorus of boss cheerleaders, always demanding a smile and an ‘upbeat’ attitude, whatever the hell that means on a Monday morning. We’d all better comply if we know what’s good for our paychecks; just look at that menacing pile of resumes, not yet tossed by HR.
And it gets under our skin every time we spot one more wedding notice on the Sunday paper, about the consorts’ rosy happenstance and expensive ceremony, sealing their next average 10 years together. Don’t mention stats on divorce, domestic violence, nickel and dime betrayals, or vicious brawls involving relatives we’re never tired of being told about.
Everything must be shoved under the rug, and heaven forbid if we’re to evoke nasty arguments over Thanksgiving, enough to cause changes in the guest lists for the following holidays. Which – you haven’t heard it from us – won’t count with a few members now present, because they’ll be dead by then. Ops, we did it again.
We had to go through this huge, and none too convincing, hyperbolic arch exposure just so to find a way to talk about the dead, and when we finally did, it still came out as a shock. But aren’t we supposed to last forever like the celebrities we are in our own minds? It surely appears so, considering the hard cash we spent on anti-aging creams.
For speaking of death, as of the devil, can only land us in that contingent of ‘depressed‘ people, killjoys, spoilsports, party poopers, naysayers, and people we’d routinely cross the street to avoid hearing about their miseries and ailments, staggering bad luck, and overall ill intent towards this wonderful world of ours. Catch you later, alligators.
THE CLAMMIEST SIDE OF LIFE
For nothing of sorts ever happens to us. We’re sunny people, we like our waiters smiling all the time, we love to greet everyone with a ‘How Are You?,’ even though we have no intention of listening to how they actually are, and they’d better not dare telling us. Our boundless optimism is as bright and intense as the eye of the midday sun, and don’t you say anything to put a damper on it.
Are you telling us that anyone would like life any other way but light and breezy, and not too hot and not too cold? That when the maniac and the mental deranged go on a spree, spraying bullets in all directions, they may be simply telling us that they just had enough of our sunny side up disposition and want to put us on the ground, pronto? Non sense.
We wouldn’t give them guns, if we were afraid that such a breakdown of our perfectly alined world had any chance of happening. Oh, wait a minute, it does happen and in many more numbers than it’d be fair to expect, certainly many more than in any other country in the world? No, it must be something in the water. Or their accent.
We don’t want to feel depressed, not even for a minute. Life is too precious, life coaches keep telling us. We don’t ever speak of death, or ‘negative’ feelings, or admit that we’re sad, frustrated, disgusted, feeling hopeless. And it’s fine, we’re fine, we must be great at all times. We’re too busy cheering up other people, advising them to move on to stop and cry just a little.
GET YOUR MOTOR RUNNING
That doesn’t mean we don’t recognize the demons of mental illness, and how bleak being in the throes of despair can be, with no apparent way out. For those like Robin, being the center of attention of millions worldwide was not enough to feel loved and safe, so bless his soul for having tried it so hard for so long.
Neither it’s advisable to hold your breath, or halt any pursuit of happiness, until all ills and woes of the world are resolved, and everything finally reveals the deeper meaning they were meant to show, all ends tied and misery thoroughly eradicated. No such luck.
Or rather, don’t wait for the revolution to have an orgasm. Life is too short and all that. Going back to the other end, it makes no sense living to satisfy someone else’s idea of what life should be about, either. So you may scratch that ruse as well, for it won’t grant you an iota of comfort when those chimes sound and you’re alone with your nakedness of purpose staring angrily back at you.
Our self-granted sense of entitlement, by the way, always gets us to blind our moral compass, so we can make that illegal turn and get there faster. It’s fine to be in need but then go and kill someone for their liver? We’d rather not. Oh, are you giving up? No, I’m letting someone else beat me on the highway, since they seem to be in a hurry, and that’s Ok. We’re not racing.
WE WANT MORE & WE WANT IT NOW
Oh, so you don’t want to be happy? Were you paying attention? Sorry if you thought this was going to be another celebrity eulogy, but we are not quite done processing Robin’s death just yet. And that’s Ok. He already did the heavy lifting, so we’ll be taking our time before saying something stupid. Or saying something at all.
It’s another one of those billions of daily situations when your opinion is absolutely not required, and you may be doing a big favor to all mankind if you just shut the hell up, for a change and if for only grief’s sake. We’ve just checked our mailbox again, and it’s all there: the public displays of pain, the homages and replays of great man’s best moments, his bouts with self-doubt, etc.
One thing that’s still missing, though, is our permission, if one can call it that, to him to have done what he did, without his memory having to go through such a excoriating expiation process, and all lecturing on the evils of depression, his addictive personality, his mood swings. As if they all could be pulled apart from the integrity and wholeness of what he was, and still is.
Robin Williams, his memory, and all those who hurt us with their final decision, do not have to apologize for having a saying on their own lives, and it’s not fair complaining that in life and death, we’ve remained their captive audiences, as they were doing all the living for us, and we were perfectly fine doing the watching. That game is up, and we still have to live with our own pain and sorrow.
JUST LOVING THE ALIEN
So he hasn’t done what we would’ve expected if he were us, so what? What else do we want from him, on top of all the life we’ve sucked out of his lifework? Or rather, we’re afraid ourselves that we’re not quite so safe as we thought we would, under his shade.
Everywhere we hear that it’s almost Friday, and we should start smiling, and granted, we can’t possibly forward any other clip of his performances, without awakening suspicions in someone that, somehow, we’re too crying for help and may be sending a message, a 9-1-1 call to the world. We aren’t and it isn’t.
But that’s what happens when someone starts talking about death, not as a terrible, unnamed and unknown ‘thing’ that happens every once in a while to someone else. Just try to begin a conversation stating that life can be indeed terrible, or not worth living, and we’re all going to die and such, and see the room getting empty pretty quickly.
Just like Robin did. Now we admire in hindsight how courageous he was speaking about his struggles, matter of factly, with no hint of life lessons or higher moral authority. But it made us cringe then, that he could say so openly that yes, he thought about suicide, but didn’t have the guts to do it, not then, anyway.
DON’T YOU DARE CHEER ME UP
Now that he succeeded and broke our hearts, we ponder if we’ll find a way of making sense of it all, of tying up those ends, and still come out the other end ready to take even more of it all. Fact is, there’s no answer, there’s no reasoning, there can’t be possibly a way of getting over this, so we may as well do a bit more of mourning, a bit less of covering up our despair.
After all, what’s wrong with feeling bad when bad things happen? Go and do your crying and pay no attention to cheerleaders and life trainers, with their schematics on how to overcome the pain. Maybe if we were not so ashamed of feeling depressed about our lives in this world, we wouldn’t feel so alone while trying to make a lasting impression.
Rest in Peace, Robin Williams. Now we know why you made us laugh so hard.
* The Hypothesis