Robin Williams left too soon. When you hang yourself with a belt in your bedroom, there’s not much doubt that you intended to end your life. That is sad beyond words. But words are all I have, so here goes.
Sadder still is the story and photo posted by the St. Paul Pioneer Press a few weeks ago when Williams visited the Dairy Queen in Lindstrom, Minnesota while he was in treatment at Hazelden. He looks gaunt, even ill, but poses dutifully with a DQ employee, his eyes avoiding the camera. I have some familiarity with this Dairy Queen from the time a few years ago when my former husband spent 28 days at Hazelden. Pete didn’t enter Hazelden willingly, and hoped that the family would keep his secret. It was a disorienting four weeks for our kids and me, but of course, much more so for him, another step in recognizing what the disease had done to him and to our family. He did the work as best he could, and boarded the van a couple of times each week for the DQ outing. You take what breaks you’re offered, I imagine. He wouldn’t have welcomed being recognized by anyone he knew.
And yet Robin Williams put his private self on very public display, surely knowing he’d be recognized. Perhaps he felt he had no choice.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between curing and healing. There’s no cure for addiction or mental illness. Nor for most cancers, or heart disease, or diabetes, or a host of other medical conditions. No cure for the human condition at all. But we can learn to manage our conditions. We can help each other heal. And we can be — should be — very sad when beloved people leave in spite of that.
My friend Ed Hessler sent me a link yesterday to a piece on Slate.com about Robin Williams’ encounter with Koko, the gorilla who has learned American Sign Language. Ed has taught me a great deal about science, and poetry — about life — in the years I’ve known him. With this link, he reminded me of our deepest connections to every being, every thing, in the “entangled bank” of our world.
“We shared some interspecies laughter,” says Williams in the video. At the end, Williams and Koko embrace, at first tentatively, and then Williams smiles and relaxes into the embrace, eyes closed. Whatever greeted him on the other side of yesterday morning, I hope he was embraced with that joy. And I hope he joyfully returned the embrace.