Today during staff meeting we recalled a hilarious scene from Robin Williams’ film RV. Then this evening, around 7PM EST, while we were getting ready for dinner, Megan and I first heard the shocking news. At the age of 63, Robin Williams died through an apparent suicide. Shocking because this man who made us laugh is no longer with us and that his depression was so deep and painful that the only way he saw out of it was to take his own life.
While Robin Williams has made us laugh through his stand-up, as the Genie, and anytime he ever appeared on David Letterman, his acting was so much more than that. He made us think, he made us cry, he made us want to be better people.
I can still remember sitting in a movie theater in Durham, North Carolina with friends to see Patch Adams. We had gone to see a funny movie because we wanted to laugh – a lot. And we did. But, I remember well coming out of that movie experience with a renewed sense of justice and compassion. Williams’ Patch Adams went against the grain. He broke the rules to help others, especially children. He was governed by a sense of justice (all should have access to health care) fueled by compassion to listen to others and to meet them where they are.
So many of Williams’ roles did that.
His films have made me a better educator and a better minister. A youth ministry colleague tweeted that whenever he needed encouragement, he would watch Dead Poet’s Society. Mr. Keating was another such character that broke rules as he was governed by justice and fueled by compassion to make a difference. This was one of the films that originally inspired me to become an educator. I wanted to change lives. I wanted to make the world better. I wanted to be Mr. Keating.
It may seem strange that fictional characters in movies were a source of inspiration to become who God has called me to be. But it’s true. There was something deeply spiritual about Williams’ performances in those films, bringing those characters to life, that I connected with. Maybe because I have not had enough time with my thoughts yet to process what exactly that is, but its there. When I think of Robin Williams, I think of justice and compassion. I think of being a better person and making the world a little bit better.
I could go on. But it is safe to say that Williams has left a legacy of change makers in his path. I only hope that I can do the same.
Thank you, Mr. Williams, for this legacy.