12 August 2014

Robin Williams: Reflections on His Apparent Death by Suicide

I've been told -- and also heard it said to others:  "Just know that you are loved."

We do not understand Love. Why do we feel it sometimes and sometimes not? Does encouragement -- "just know that you are loved" -- bring love any closer, make it any more vibrant when we feel ourselves estranged from Love?

Often, the person saying it to me has been out of touch for a long time. Long enough that I've begun to wonder:  whatever happened to....? Or maybe long enough that I have steeled myself against ever thinking of them because remembering triggers longing and longing hurts.

Our reunion is awkward. I am out of practice. I've spent days, months or years learning how to live without their love, building barricades around my heart and burying memories. Dismantling my security system is not accomplished quickly or easily.

It's an invocation -- "Just know that you are loved" -- that may or may not work. It is attempted hypnosis."Keep your eye on the swinging pendant....you are growing sleepy..." The objective is to forget the long slogs through dark nights of the soul, the wretched cries for Love or Grace or Touch that went unanswered...

Coming from someone I see more frequently, the prompt to "know" that I am loved is humiliating and embarrassing. I wonder if they are saying it because I look like I am suffering or if it is an expression of their own guilt, their feeling that their affection for me has not been evident.

I believe that Love is felt, not known. But what do I know? I may be conned by your eloquence to embrace an illusion, to accept your view of yourself as a person who loves me but the felt proof is born in the inarticulate dialogue of our hearts when we look at each other, or stand side by side at the kitchen counter slicing fruit. It's there when I come home after a long journey and find fresh linens on my bed.

Longing by Kinga Britschgi
But this kind of love is not Love with a capital L. Love is impersonal. This "love" that we speak of, that we give each other or encourage each other to feel is something else altogether. It's an amalgam of need and lust and envy, pity and inspiration and gratitude. It is as close to real as any human emotion can be. Still, it is, as is all emotion, transient, changeable, ultimately unreliable. The lucky ones enjoy this kind of love for long stretches of time. But no one takes it with them unto Death.

I am thinking about Robin Williams today. I am wondering if his suicide had anything at all to do with Love.

I am well acquainted with what They call "suicidal ideation." As best I can remember, on each of the four or five occasions when I felt done with living, it had something to do with Love.

In conversation about suicide, people have said, "I love life too much to ever kill myself." And I understand this statement because I am also well acquainted with moments of supreme ecstasy, feeling full of gratitude or satisfaction or wonder and appreciating that these feelings are only available to me because I exist, I live and breathe.

But such states of consciousness represent the far end of a spectrum of perception and feeling, the other end of which is extreme and excruciating angst. 

The desire for death can occur at either end of the spectrum.

I think about the final scene in the film "Thelma and Louise." Thelma says "Let's just keep going" and I hear her saying "We are free. We are strong. We are together. Let's just keep going." They are feeling the ecstasy I mentioned previously but it is unattached to living and breathing. 

[The contemplation of Thelma and Louise opens the door to a vast and wandering line of thought. Best saved for a separate post.]

A spokesperson for Robin Williams said the artist had recently been dealing with depression. If this is true, he was living at the other end of the aforementioned spectrum and likely harbored a desire not for more of the same -- "Let's just keep going" -- but rather for a change, relief, a new direction. 

As the Final Frontier, Death offers everything -- more of the best of Now or something new and better than Now.

Robin Williams had a spouse and kids and a house and a career and possessions and acclaim and friendships and income. None of these are Love. Did he "have" Love? Did someone say to him at some point during this last bout with depression "Just know that you are loved"? Perhaps he wasn't convinced?

Rest in Peace, Robin. Thank you for the many gifts you brought us.