I am Robin Williams

There’s been no shortage of opinion about the suicide death of Robin Williams at the tender age of 63. Many have pointed out Williams’ immense talent both in comedic acting and also in more serious ventures (like his amazing performances in “Dead Poets’ Society” and “Good Will Hunting”).

Many have pointed to his struggles with alcohol and drug addiction. Some have remarked–with a surprise that continues, frankly, to both surprise and perplex me–that they cannot believe someone so successful could be so downcast. 

I found news of 11-04Williams’ suicide hard to take. Perhaps you’re wondering why. It’s not because I’m a super-devoted member of his fan club.

It’s not because Google’s number three search term for Williams is–sickeningly–“Robin Williams net worth.”

It’s simply because I am Robin Williams. 

I first experienced depression in seminary. I thought I was losing my mind. In a sense, I was.

My brain was, it seems, doing strange things chemically and despite my best efforts I couldn’t bring it under my control.

That was sixteen years ago and I haven’t had another depressive episode as severe again. That’s possibly because I’ve also taken antidepressant medication since then.

I suppose depending on your view of the clergy, of the Christian life, or of the ways in which God works in the world, I am either a normal human being or someone whose faith and strength is somehow faulty.

In reality, to be a normal person is to be someone whose faith and strength is faulty. There’s little point in the Good News–the Gospel–if this isn’ t the case.

So much of our modern American self-image assumes the sovereignty of the will–if you can will it, you can do it. You can pick up on this notion in Matt Walsh’s somewhat frustrating blog post. He posits that Williams simply chose to kill himself. On one level, he did. So did the people who threw themselves from the World Trade Center.They chose to kill themselves but we typically don’t excoriate them for selfishness. Collectively we tend to pity those poor souls. We’re less forgiving with those who make a similar choice in different situations.

I’m not suggesting that suicide is an acceptable option for those struggling with mental health issues–may it never be! What I am suggesting is that those who have never traversed the long, dark valley of depression should be careful to avoid suggesting that the will is something over which any of us has total control. The will and the brain are mysteriously connected–messing with the chemistry of the latter affects the former. As a result the choices we all make on a daily basis–getting out of the bed, washing–often become labored for those with depression.

So as we reflect on the loss of Robin Williams, let’s ask God to soften our hearts toward those who suffer.