In general I tend to shy away from writing about tragedies and heartaches that surround us. In this crazy, mixed-up world where they shoot down planes, neighbors being cruel to one another and militarized police attack protesters and journalists, it’s hard not to tune-out. I love to create a space on the internet that provides some distraction from the heartbreaking realities of our world. I want my blog to be a source of inspiration, possibly bring some laughter, provide camaraderie through shared experiences and at the very least, to feel a little lighter.
But I’m finding it impossible to remain silent as I feel the collective outpouring of grief for the sudden passing of Robin Williams. As the lachrymose eulogies of Robin Williams continue to flood, it’s evident that he was the most beloved American actor and comedian of our time. For Millennials, Robin Williams was our childhood. Babyboomers came of age virtually at the same time as he did.
As Williams once quipped, “Well, you just try and keep it in perspective; you have to remember the best and the worst. In America they really do mythologize people when they die.”
At the expense of sounding trite and being cliché, please allow me to also take the time to thank this man renowned for his comedic genius and kindness.
Because my grief, also being experienced by the countless others around me, is real.
For me, Robin Williams was my America.
Williams was the rare common ground, the (sad) clown that my American-weary Filipino parents could enjoy watching with their children. For those few moments (far and few inbetween), my immigrant parents set aside their uncompromising views of life and laughed with us.
For someone who wasn’t allowed much of a childhood, watching his films enabled me to steal moments of simply being a child – a rare, safe space where my mother’s mania and depression couldn’t haunt me. Movies and tv shows obviously aren’t reality but for a child who desperately needed some adult compassion, his performances went a long way to giving me some momentary happiness and escape. What else would a five-year old child who walked home from school to an empty apartment do but watch television? Or what about those endless weeks of summer of being left alone to either read, or watch TV because God forbid playing outside would make me darker to my parent’s chagrin? Suffice to say summer camps, family vacations and stable home environments were not a shared experience for this child of working-class Filipino parents. What did remain fairly consistent and reliable were the chances of the prolific acting and comedy routines of Robin Williams being on television or readily accessible on the VCR.
As I grew alongside his movies, I learned about America, random pop culture trivia and the world. Because when you don’t have parents who believed in having conversations with their children except for giving commands and criticism – books, movies and media become major players in shaping one’s perspective of the world and navigating the perilous world of childhood and adolescence.
What probably made Robin Williams’ presence more palpable was that we shared a common home – San Francisco. He was the local celebrity with whom there was a real possibility of randomly running into (unfortunately we never did). As with all celebrities, whispers of his own demons only made more evident by his candidness of them, simply became a blasé footnote when I became a young adult. And to my geeky embarrassment, the first time I stepped into the Sistine Chapel, I took a deep breath, smelled the air around me and looked up. After all, it was because of Robin Williams’ lecture in Good Will Hunting that I first learned about the masterpiece and started dreaming that one day, maybe I too could lay my eyes on it (I know, I’m a big sap). It wasn’t that I celebrated the existence of Robin Williams everyday (that would too melodramatic and disingenuous), but rather his influence enriched my reality, inciting me to laugh, dream, hope…and simply be human, complete with imperfections and wobbly bits.
So when news of his death came crashing down my Facebook feed, I couldn’t help but mutter the words, “Oh Captain… My Captain…” in dismay. For a moment, in my foggy recollection of What Dreams May Come, I fantasized that since millions of people genuinely loved him, chances are that he would be in heaven, or probably re-incarnating back into the world next week. My eternal optimism is partly his fault any way.
I can guarantee you that when the time comes, my little boy will also watch Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting, What Dreams May Come, Jumanji, Bird Cage, and Mork & Mindy for starters. Maybe he too can learn a couple things about my America as well. But most of all, I hope that he can perceive and try to emulate the kindness that Robin Williams bestowed upon the world. I’ll be there to give my son a helping hand.
“...that you are here; that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”
(Photo source: Instagram of Robin Williams)