While I was at work tonight, one of my co-workers asked me if I had heard that Robin Williams had died. Slackjawed, I replied in the negative, then I looked at the TV. I had the common sense to have had the TV on CNN earlier in the evening, and I saw the headline announcing his death was faced front and center. If I didn’t admit in some small way that this affected me throughout the rest of my shift, I’d be lying. I didn’t bawl my eyes out, but I was hurt. Robin Williams was a comedic genius who had a knack for impressions and was well known for his frenetic stage presence. He was also known for his alcohol and drug addictions, but we’ll get to that in a moment. But, let me just say that his work on Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire will always remain among my favorites of his; when he didn’t reprise his role in the direct to video sequel to Aladdin, you could feel that the whole thing was off, and it was a welcome return when he came back for the final Aladdin movie. I can’t heap enough platitudes for his work in Mrs. Doubtfire, so I won’t even bother. Unfortunately, there is that unspoken demon in the room, and I already alluded to it, but I’m about to go whole hog on it now.
As I mentioned, Robin Williams suffered from alcohol and drug addiction, and looking at his old stand up, you can see it. His frenetic pace, while entertaining, felt like it was fueled by a pretty heavy cocktail of stimulants. The way he bounced around from joke to joke was almost scary to watch, because you never knew if he would completely crash. Now, reports are that this was a suicide due to depression, and I can understand where the drugs and alcohol came into play. To this day, depression is something that’s rarely discussed, as it’s treated more like the bogeyman instead of the serious clinical issue it is. As a person who has spent over a decade of his life living with someone suffering from clinical depression, I can tell you it’s hard to plot the ups and downs; one minute, all can be candy and daffodils, the next minute is the mental equivalent of scorched earth. We can throw tons of money into other forms of research, but no one wants to discuss why someone’s serotonin levels have dropped to such a degree that death is the only way they feel they can be free. That is a sad display of what’s important to some people.
Now I get to go from something that makes me sad to something that makes me angry. There is no real transition for this, so I’m just gonna go right into it.
Over the weekend, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, MO. This is a problem in and of itself, but it affects me a lot because Michael Brown was a young black man. The city of Ferguson is struggling against devolving into a riot, the FBI is investigating, the police officer is on administrative leave, and things are getting really ugly. The hacker group known only as Anonymous has gotten involved, and they want what a lot of people in that small city want: justice.
Meanwhile, a half a world away, Israel and Palestine can’t help but lob missiles at each other in what seems to be an eternal civil war between the two states. I hate to bring science fiction into this, but this reminds me of a line from the Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special. To set it up, three members of the Unified Intelligence Taskforce have been duplicated by Zygons – shapeshifting monsters from another planet who want Earth as their own – when they are confronted by the people they copied. The head of UNIT, Kate Stewart, is threatening to detonate a nuclear warhead in the middle of London, killing everyone in the city, and her doppelganger is trying to talk some sense into her. During this conversation, we get this bit of dialogue:
Zygon Kate: We only have to agree to live.
Kate Stewart: Sadly, we can only agree to die.
I’ve been to Israel; to this day, it’s one of the most fulfilling port visits I’ve ever had. To see what’s happening over there simply because one doesn’t want the other to exist is disheartening. My heart goes out to both sides in this conflict, and I hope they one day find peace.
My heart also goes out to the family of Michael Brown, and I hope they get the justice they so richly deserve.
My heart also goes out to the family of Robin Williams; I know this is no consolation, but he’s finally at rest.
This roundup brings me to the point of this post. Grief is not something that is quantifiable; it exists in its own right, and different people handle it in different ways. The way I grieve will be vastly different than the way someone else does, and that’s okay. Grief is also something that isn’t just designated to one person or one entity; you can feel sorrow over multiple things, and that’s okay as well. To tell someone that they can’t grieve over something because they have to grieve over something else is – to put it bluntly – fucked up. Don’t tell me I can’t feel for losing an entertainment icon and an unarmed man at the same time; that’s patently unfair, and I don’t think it’s right to force someone to not feel for one person because you don’t deem it important. That’s on you, and I have nothing to do with it.
If that’s the way you want to conduct business, that’s fine; however, I won’t support your brand of activism, because it’s insensitive in its sensitivity. I want no part of that.