A Friend Like Me
So Robin Williams.
A man I never met takes his own life and I am as emotional as my 18 year old self would have thought I’d be. A level of emotion 39 year old me did not see coming. I don’t think as a clever romantic kid hitting Good Morning Vietnam, Dead Poets Society, Hook, and Aladdin in a row that one could help but feel like Robin Williams was your patron saint. A sort of fun uncle who would slip you a beer when your folks weren’t looking. Someone who didn’t ever really talk down to you.
We grew apart of course, Robin’s career and I, as I cultivated my love of the clever and he headed for mostly the sappier shore. But always with a fondness…
All of that fondness was mostly boxed up. Self-reflective as I am, high school is a long time ago now and very little aside from theatre stayed with me. But, reliving all of that love through a bunch of strangers eyes over the last day has been fascinating. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you already know I’ve been a pretty voluble curator of other’s posts on this as I sifted through what I was thinking and feeling. I often do best at dealing with things in volume and looking for patterns and the remarkable pattern that emerged wasn’t the broad-based love, the surprisingly deep and varied career, or the effect his films from say 1987-94 had on my generation (If you
Googled performed a search on Google for “Mrs. Doubtfire got me through my parent’s divorce” you’d be drowning in anecdotes).
But the pattern that stuck out for me was…
My social media reach tops out at about 5000 read both primary and secondary… (network FOAF metrics aside) and I’d say 15% of that total had an in-the-room story about the man. Not “I saw him once”… I mean a personal anecdote about a real live human moment with a global megastar. This was a “celebrity” who didn’t hide away, which is remarkable when filtered through the TMZ age. Robin Williams understood the good he could do and strove to do it whenever he could.
Which is actually why I’m writing. No one needs a 4000th “Robin Williams is my jam” eulogy splotch in their feed. But we really do need to learn the lesson he modeled and we need to stop opting out of helping.
A million million people have posted on Twitter and Facebook in the last 36 hours letting friends know that if they have needs the friends can “reach out”.
That if they are at the end of their ropes to just “reach out”.
That if they’re drowning that they can just swim to the blue service phone someone will be right with you… your call is very important to us.
The idea of reaching out is a fundamental lack of understanding of depression and an abdication of being an actual friend. Being a friend requires the actual effort of listening and noticing. If someone needs help you offer it. If you’re not sure if they need help? Ask. Go ahead. Be rebuffed.
Be brushed off.
Be the weird person asking out of nowhere about the obviously plastered on smile.
But make the affirmative mistake.
Don’t let being busy or tired keep you from taking the the time to check in.
I’m not saying you should run the emotional inquisition on every person you meet. But on your inner circle and that next closest ring? Yeah. Go ahead. Because if we’re all playing heads-up man defense against this we can do a lot of good. We can’t stop depression and other mental illnesses from taking our friends but we can sure as hell turn the tide. Understand what good you can do and do it when you can.
Don’t wait for the call.