It's a month on since Robin Williams died, on August 11th, and I've been doing some thinking.
I've been thinking about why we were so attracted to Robin Williams and why his passing had such a powerful affect on us.
Was it because he was a great actor?
I don't think so.
Because he made us laugh?
No, even though he was among the funniest people we knew.
Because he inspired us?
No - even though social media was saturated with his words of wisdom after he died.
I think the reason why we stood in awe of Robin Williams is because deep down inside of us he reminded us of how vulnerable we are.
To put it bluntly, deep down inside of us is an addict who is bordering, potentially, on taking his/her life.
OK, I know it sounds a bit harsh, but it's true.
The problem is we normally don't see it until it's too late because we are not comfortable with our vulnerability. Society doesn't like to see it either.
OK, most of us won't get addicted to substances and most of us won't take our lives. However, we are all addicted, to different degrees - to phones, the internet, the next big thing, looks, wealth, success, alcohol, drugs - to whatever takes our fancy. (I can hardly eat a meal without a mobile phone in my hand.) And depression and anxiety are part and parcel of our lives.
The truth is that we are fragile by nature and most of us underestimate this. It doesn't help that we live in a culture that wants to deny this. Modern life doesn't make space for our vulnerability. So, it's important for us to make space for it ourselves.
Sometimes I get up in the morning and acknowledge the negativity that is going on inside my head. I make space for my anxiety, I hear it. I listen to it. Sometimes I act upon it, resolving whatever issue is bothering me, if I can. Mostly I just listen to it. Occasionally, I let off steam and my wife rushes to apply bandages, but I simply throw my arms around her and thank her for listening. I'm not looking for solutions; I just want to be heard.
To listen is to love. To be known is to be loved. Our vulnerability is part of our beauty, as it was part of Robin Williams'.
If we have to teach ourselves to acknowledge what's getting us down in life, we also have to teach ourselves to acknowledge what's beautiful.
Robin Williams' daughter Zelda captured this magnificently when she poignantly remarked that her father had lost touch with the love that was around him.
'I'll never, ever understand how he [Robin] could be loved so deeply and not find it in his heart to stay'.
Robin didn't feel it any more. He had lost touch with the love that surrounded him.
When depression kicks in, the first thing to go is the belief that you are loved or loveable; you may as well be alone on a desert island, because that is how you feel.
But you have to scramble back to base - to the certainty and conviction that you are loved. The only way to do that is through the beauty in everyday life.
Today, society is all about the Truth and the Good. It has almost nothing to do with the Beautiful - the 'little' things that light up our lives, the hugs, the kisses, the affirmations, the kindness of strangers, a look, laughter. Besides, almost no one has the time or inclination to sense and savour the beauty of their everyday experience. And yet it is critical, if we are to negotiate life well.
I have a friend who puts it like this:
'We all have a compass inside that we navigate by. It's all the things we have learned about life from love. We are like the Magellan - the ship. We take a reading from the stars every now and then and steer our next course. The hull is going to have seaweed and limpets, and it will cause drag. We are going to have to clean off every so often. We are going to have to steer courses to avoid storms and icebergs and dangerous waters lest we end up like the Marie Celeste."
Robin Williams lost touch with his compass. It's the easiest thing in the world to do. Our hearts go out to his wife and children on this the anniversary of his first month's passing.