Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Never send to know.

It’s quite an odd thing, to cry for a stranger. One may feel sadness and melancholy and regret for so many deaths: the ones in the newspapers which run into horrifying statistics, almost beyond the ability of the brain to process, like the Yazidis or the Syrians or the Gazans, or those closer to home, the teenage car crashes or fire fatalities reported in the local press. John Donne’s lines live always with me:

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee. 

But still, to find oneself weeping blindly in an ordinary kitchen, making an ordinary cup of coffee, on an ordinary, rainy Scottish morning, because of the death of a famous person, as if that person were a best beloved – that is quite strange.

And yet, perhaps it is entirely explicable. Many other people seem to have had the same reaction to the shocking loss of Robin Williams. I sat with a friend in the field in the rain, as the red mare listened, and tried to work it all out. It was not just the straight sadness of a bright spirit snuffed out too soon. It was not only the thought of the family and friends left bereft. It was, we thought, the terrible poignancy of a man who gave so much joy, who lifted up so many hearts, being unable to stop himself from sinking.

We came back to the same line: if Robin Williams could not make it, who could?

Perhaps too there was the contemplation of the power of those demons, which robbed him of hope. If they could overcome such a dazzling, inventive mind, such a good heart, such a glittering talent, they must have been almost supernatural in their agency. The thought of the long fight he must have waged with them was one of unimaginable terror.

Depression is a bastard, and it is a thief. It is random and it does not discriminate. It takes the brilliant and the beautiful, the kind and the good, the funny and the clever. It does not give a shit how much you are adored or how much joy you give or how many prizes you win. It is no respecter of money or class or fame.

As the affection and grief roll round the internet, my friend and I say, as one: if only he knew how much he was loved. There is the silent, melancholy rider: it would have made no difference. Depression does not count blessings. Blessings, ironically, may make the sufferer feel even worse. How dare I be afflicted when I have all this?

Out in the open prairies of the web, where so often the craziness of crowds lives, comes the wisdom of crowds. People are shining lights into those dark corners where debilitation and shame live. It’s a condition, they are saying, as real and painful as a broken leg. You can’t fix a shattered limb by the power of thought or will; you can’t say to someone with a smashed femur, cheer up, butch up, man up. Don’t be afraid to ask, people are saying; stretch out your hand for help. There is help, there are people who love you, you are not alone.

Ordinary people, touched by this extraordinary man, are remembering Captain, my Captain, and wanting to stand on their desks and be remarkable.

I met Robin Williams once. I was a waitress in a tiny café  in a valley in Scotland, and I went over to a table and asked the new arrivals what they would like, and stared straight into that familiar, smiling, open face. I have an odd benchmark of character: I judge people very much on how they treat waiters. Williams was enchanting. He was gracious and polite and regular; he had no sense at all of the Big I Am. He was gentle and quiet, with no trace of that wild, manic, public persona. The other lovely thing, in that small highland village, was that everyone left him alone. Nobody pointed or stared or asked for his autograph. They gave him the courtesy of allowing him to be an ordinary man, just for one day.

I have a fantasy in my mind that he ordered the special lentil soup that I had made that morning. It was a long time ago. I think he probably did not have the soup. I think he just had a cup of coffee. I prided myself on my barista skills, newly learnt, and I made the hell out of that cup of coffee. I don’t expect you can really judge someone on one brief transactional meeting, but I was left with the impression of a very, very nice man. A gentle goodness shone out of him like starlight. Perhaps that is why so many people, from the humblest waitress to the most storied Hollywood star, are so sad.

He did not belong to us. I think of the heartbreaking moment in Out of Africa, where Meryl Streep looks down bleakly on a mound of dry earth and says: ‘Now take back the soul of Denys Finch-Hatton, whom you have shared with us. He brought us joy, and we loved him well. He was not ours, he was not mine.’

And yet, so many of my generation feel as if Robin Williams was stitched into the fabric of our lives, from Mork and Mindy in our youth, through Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets’ Society in our formative years, to the later, darker films of our middle age. He was so reliably present that perhaps many of us thought he would always be there.

There is something tragically democratic in his loss. Perhaps that too is what speaks to every bruised heart. He might have seemed to live up on that higher plane, where coruscating invention and wild talent and universal fame exist, in the troposphere where ordinary mortals may not go. Yet this kind, funny, haunted man was no more immune from the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than the most workaday amongst us.

I very rarely use the universal we. I don’t like to speak for anyone else. But I’m not sure I have seen such an agreement on anything, in the rushing new age of the internet. There are no dissenting voices, no snide remarks, no cheap jokes. There is a collective sense of love and sadness, in their most authentic, unifying form.

In the end, there is not much point in trying to understand or dissect the extraordinary reaction to the death of one brilliant man. In the end, it is what it is. It is a shining light gone out, a brave soul lost, a fighting heart broken.

He gave us joy, and we loved him well.

Go free, now.
 
12 Aug 1

As I choose this picture, I think:

Tell someone you love how much you love them; take solace in the small things; be kind, because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle; lift your eyes up to the hills. Those are my resolutions for today.


















55 comments:

  1. Beautifully said Tania, thank you.

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  2. I've been haunted by sadness today too. He was a man I always wanted to meet. Even though you knew he had demons, somehow you couldn't help but feel that if you could just meet him, touch his hand, look into his eyes, you could somehow help.Nonsense of course. I feel sure he must have known how much he was loved - though he may not have been able to believe he deserved it. It's a really sad loss and you're so right Tania. Depression is a bastard.

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  3. I bought your book for my sister when it was first published, and, today, used the quote 'backwards, in high heels' in my column. And now, via facebook, I have stumbled upon this. So shiver-down-the-spine-y. And so beautifully put.

    Lynne Barrett-Lee

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  4. Thank you for this. I was still half-asleep when I heard the news, and found myself in tears without entirely knowing why. Now I know why.
    x

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  5. Exactly what Gilly has expressd. I wish so much I was able to meet him, I always dreamed of it as a kid, but who knows what was going on in his mind, we just have to hope he's better now, that he's not suffering any more. I hope.

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  6. A wonderful sentiment and a beautiful recollection of character. Thank you for this. He will definitely be missed.

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  7. Beautifully said...thank you.

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  8. There are no more words, except perhaps, Carpe Diem! x

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  9. "There is the silent, melancholy rider: it would have made no difference. Depression does not count blessings. Blessings, ironically, may make the sufferer feel even worse. How dare I be afflicted when I have all this?"

    ^^^ So much truth. I used to feel so guilty for being depressed when I knew that my life was so much more "blessed" than so many other people's lives.

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  10. I have lived for over 25 years with a husband who suffers from bi-polar and the depression part is indeed scary. While Robin Williams' death brings suicide and depression into global consciousness, you are right that people often miss the point. You can and should support but, in the end, your love can't save someone with severe depression. If they are fortunate, the sufferer can get through the worst and come out on the other side with professional help and medication. If you've never been there you can never fully comprehend the darkness, despair and guilt. I don't pretend to understand it, but I have certainly seen it.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and this beautiful bit of writing.

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  11. Hard as it is to accept, he is at peace now. He doesn't need to feel the way he did any longer.
    Whilst we think typically; we look on death as a deep descent into the unknown. In Depression one looks across to death as a solution. Depression siezes and crushes. It distorts. We must be there for one another.

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  12. Dear god,your eloquence is so poinient and beautiful that it made me cry.Think this is the best tribute I have ever read.x

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  13. You said everything I could not say. I was numb; I cried on the spot when I heard the news; I cried bitterly and passionately. I cried again and again throughout the day that wrought such sad news... But reading your fine work here - you have done something really rather fine. You said it all, and you said it very well indeed. THANK YOU. x

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  14. Wow, this is so beautifully written, and so true. I wrote a piece this morning about depression and the loss of Robin Williams, would love it if you could read it. http://wishingforthevintagelife.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/robin-williams-in-memoriam.html?m=1

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  15. Beautiful simply beautiful. I have spent the day under a cloud of sadness at the passing of this wonderful man who touched so many. Today is my wedding anniversary but have felt no joy only sadness.

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  16. A wonderful tribute beautifully written about a brilliant and funny man.. a light gone out, so sad.

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  17. Thank you for this wonderful,eloquent,fitting,moving tribute,the finest I have read today.It has been a very difficult day here and around the world as we all mourn our loss.Depression is a bastard,an insidious illness with no light in the darkness.I pray Robin Williams is now bathed in light and at peace

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  18. I wept in front of the TV tonight, listening to the messages of condolence and thought I must be hormonal (again), because I didn't know this famous person even though he had given me so many pleasurable moments. So thank you for your words, you put it so well. "It is what it is". Hx

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  19. I think you summed up what so many of us are feeling/thinking.
    Today I woke up, drank my coffee and also cried for the loss of this lovely, wonderful soul I felt I knew, but never met.
    It was so hard to believe someone so well loved and respected world over, could feel so crippled by sadness.
    There will be just a little less laughter in the world without this lovely human being.

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  20. Your beautiful words have me in tears again and this sums up completely everything I've felt today. Thank you

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  21. Michelle Hatings12 August 2014 23:19

    I have suffered with depression for over 25 years & at times I have considered the alternative to this agony. Not just my agony but the agony I put those closest to me through, It seems unfair that they should suffer my crazy illness too . However, i have already lost two close family members to suicide, my Dad & my brother & have felt the guilt, pain, stigma , torment & helplessness , the impact of suicide on those left behind never diminish. They got in first .......so how could I possibly , another family member put the rest of my family through suicide again. So I go on , not really enjoying life , missing my loved ones , wondering what If........ suicide is not the answer but understanding , empathy , proper diagnosis, continuous support & therapy is , unfortunately most don't get this until they have attempted & failed at suicide. I have never been offered proper psiciatric help , even after years of taking meds ...but still, some will slip through the net , the brain is complex , will we ever understand depressive illness ???


























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    1. Hi, I don't know you.. But I feel your pain. I, too, have been suicidal almost all my teen and adult life.. There's a great pressure in thinking we're leaving our loved ones behind with this heavy question why we would do such a horrible thing. I learned to take one day at a time. I saw a doctor for 6 months or so.. I distracted myself by learning new things (YouTube taught me how to bake). Then I became a mother, and life has become more meaningful. Maybe these are things you already know or have in your life.. But one thing's for certain, it will only get better if you let it. Let the joy in. When you start thinking of something sad, look at the silver lining. It's never too late to step back from the ledge. One step at a time, my dear.. Be safe always.

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  22. I too wept this morning at this news. My daughter is afflicted by the curse of depression. I see the signs but often feel powerless to halt her spiral into a dark place. I listen and offer hugs but I know that may not be enough. My heart goes out to Robin Williams family.

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  24. Such a beautiful article. Powerful and eloquent words. I could not have expressed it so well myself, but do share your emotions. I, too, wondered why I was so tearful last night on hearing the news, and all day today .. unable to get it out of my head. As the daughter of a suicide "victim" (my father), and the wife (for 24 years and counting) of a husband with clinical depression, I guess I have my own "experience" that makes this seem all too up close and personal. There, but for the grace of God, go so many more of us. We will never understand, but can only "live with" the consequences of mental ill-health, for better and worse, and hope to find a path through the pain. RIP Robin Williams, and peace to your family and friends.

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  25. Thank you for expressing everything I felt so beautifully..

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  26. Beautifully, beautifully said. Thank you.

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  27. Semper Fidelis..life goes on..farewell

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  28. I wasn't fond of Robin Williams as an artist. He frightened me, drove me into a corner where I could clearly see his pain and the threat of what has now occurred, and yet, like almost everyone I've spoken to, I felt this deep loss. I didn't cry. I cried when John Lennon was shot, and I think it was because it wasn't a shock. It must have been harder for him than any of us can imagine. Thank you for your eloquent tribute. You write beautifully. I too met Mr. Williams - payed pool against him in L.A. sndf he was 'on', turned up to eleven as I recall/ What a shame, and what can we do? Give out the Samaritans number and follow your sweet advice, Rick Jones@Mrfingerbobs.

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  29. Just like so many others here Williams' passing has deeply touched me, in a way I could not comprehend. I cried when I heard the news last night, I cried into my morning coffee and I blinked back tears on my commute as I was reading the tributes on Twitter. The girl sitting opposite me on the tube had tears in her eyes, the woman to her left looked sad too. Maybe they have their own stories, or maybe we were indeed three strangers mourning the loss of one wonderful human being that brought kindness into the world. I thought it was only my perception that made London seem quieter than usual today - having read this post, maybe it actually was.

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  30. Thank you for this moving post. I felt a bit of a fool when I awoke to the news of Williams' death and promptly cried my eyes out. Crying for a stranger's passing felt so strange, and, yet, as you mentioned, I had watched Mork and Mindy in my childhood and kept on watching all his work well into middle age. His death did feel, somehow, like a personal loss.

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  31. That was just so beautiful.

    My eyes are leaking.

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  32. Stephen Fry brought me here. Thank you for your eloquent tribute to Mr. Williams, a brilliantly talented human being.

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  33. This was beautiful. I feel so silly every time I breakdown thinking about him but at least I know I'm not alone. I grew up on his movies, so I feel like he's been with me my whole life. It truly feels like such a personal loss. My grief also stems from the realization that while he brought so much joy and laughter into so many lives, he was suffering so deeply and so hopelessly. It truly breaks my heart.

    I'll never forget roaming around San Francisco hoping to run into him. He was a legend, and more importantly, a decent human being. He will forever be missed. Rest easy, Robin. Thank you for everything.

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  34. Thank you for finding such elegance and truth in describing your reaction to this loss. Robin Williams was an incredibly giving man and with such genius that he could see his fellow travelers very well. He cared for them while he pointed out their foibles -with lightening, and then a chuckle. Until he couldn't. Yes, depression prevented him from seeing the Robin Williams we less gifted ones could see. I have been crying for about 2 months now, when I haven't been numb. It's a depression, I have to admit. But I haven't done enough, and I've made promises -- and as tiny as my wee sphere is, especially compared to someone like Mr Williams, I don't want to be the one to make it sadder. Not if I can help it. This is not a gift I would ask for, but this is what Mr Williams has left to me.

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  35. Beautiful writing. Thank you for this.

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  36. Well said and so what I needed to hear. All day I've been repeating "Captain, my captain" in my head and seeing Williams in various guises and roles and feeling a weird kind of mourning for someone I never really knew...you've done a good thing here and I appreciate it.

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  37. Thank you for putting in words what I feel.

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  38. Exaclty my feeling, my thoughts, my mourning, my crying my eyes out over the loss of this beautiful soul. I asked myself the same questions and gave myself the same answers as you.

    I wish I could fly myself into a future where this horrible horrible disease is no more than a footnote in history books, long gone and unable to rip up hearts anymore.

    Thank you for your words.

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  39. What a beautiful tribute! Thanks for this post and thanks to Steohen Fry for taking me here. I also surprised myself bursting into tears after the shock and the struggle to convince myself that I had misread the name. I seem to have lost a close friend, even if I'd never met him. But, as you very eloquently put it, no one is really a stranger. Humani nihil a me alienum puto, and not just humans, every living being shares the same fate. He is now free and at peace, but I am haunted by just imagining the terrible pain that must have taken him to put an end to his life. Ample smile, sad eyes. Life in Peace now, dearest Robin.

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  40. Beautifully written and so, so true - I have tears in my eyes reading this, Bless you x

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  41. Thank you for your beautiful words and your understanding.

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  42. I felt, feel, the same way... as if he were someone I knew.

    "... we defy augury. There's a special
    providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now,
    'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
    now; if it be not now, yet it will come:
    the readiness is all..."

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  43. I am astonished by the response to this post, and very touched. Thank you all so much for coming here and generously sharing your own words.

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  44. A thoughtful piece of writing.

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  45. I also read your post because of Stephen Fry. I'm very impressed of your really wise words, thank you so much for that. Rest in peace, truly great Robin Williams.

    Alice

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  46. Beautiful, insightful writing. Thank you.

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  47. What a beautiful post! I cried my eyes out as if I'd known him. He was a rather big part of my life, even if he was just a man on a tv screen.

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  48. Your post was shared on FB - think I have heard of you before. But your post about Robin was simply spot on - you managed to articulate exactly how I was feeling and help me understand why I was so so sad at this very sad news. I love Robin Williams - his work, talent, humour and just can't believe he has gone. His death as all deaths do - sharpened my senses yet again around the death of my beautiful daughter Ella just over 18 months ago - to cancer, a very different death - but a death. Thank you for writing so well

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  49. Beautiful words. Thank you for articulating what so many people are feeling right now!

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  50. This post is so very beautiful - thank you for that...

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  51. Tania, this was incredibly beautiful as others have said. At a celebratory service recently I heard a mother speak of the death of her son (he was killed in action), to 200 fresh faced graduates, and the thing she said that really stuck with me is that everyone must keep talking and not bottle things up. She was so brave, to stand up and speak so honestly as a mother. She had become a central point for his friends and comrades to meet and talk, and provided so much support to others. Having a husband with PTSD who asked for help from his Service (and had it in spades) and an uncle who didn't, this is something very close to my heart. Thank you.

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  52. Beautifully put, thank you for sharing
    liz from Paris

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  53. Sweet, touching, honest, beautiful. Thank you for this.

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  54. Lovely, simply lovely. Thank you.

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