Sunday, August 17, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Williams

In this past week, I have thought about life in general and Robin Williams specifically.  The enormity of the hollow feeling he left behind is palpable if you read the news or browse through social media.  I find solace in that like me, many others have felt the loss of Robin Williams to the point where we were able to publicly share it.  One is not, I think, expected to show emotion at the passing of actors but in the case of Robin Williams, he became part of our lives with his body of work. Many grew up with him. It was not surprising then to find myself crying and incredulous when I first heard the news that he had taken his own life.  It felt like I had lost an uncle.

I like all his movies, to be sure, but as fate would have it, the one movie that resonates with me and I would dare say with many of my contemporaries (who were coming of age in that time) is Dead Poets Society.  At that time, I was starting high school and like many, the movie marked me for life and challenged me to think not of what the expectations were of me, but of the expectations I had of myself.  At that age, it is quite easy to confuse both or forget one while embracing the other.  My classmates and I would later get to have our own Mr. Keating.  Our English teacher would hold class outside and would read Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass while we contemplated its meaning as it related to our own personal story.  I will never forget that class, my classmates, and the feeling of wonder our teacher was able to instill in most if not all of us.

Mr. Williams did not know this but his portrayal in this movie made an impact in how I viewed literature.  He will never know that I later went on to graduate with two BAs in Literature, one in English because that is the language I grew up with and one in Spanish because that is the language I was born in. Later on, and much to my surprise (but not of others, I think), I became a teacher.  My primary students, I found, needed not only someone who taught them, but someone who was genuinely interested in them and would make them think for themselves. In the last few years, I would let my students take the microphone so-to-speak and stand on their chairs (the desks were too old and wobbly) while they shared with the class their own thoughts and feelings.  My students loved doing this! I wonder if they will ever know the connection to the film, but I find that's not the point. I know my students will definitely remember the connections they made and the feeling of joyous possibility while standing above what is common and expected.

So, I have not written in what feels like for ever here and I find I have to take this opportunity to, in some way, pay tribute to Williams.  May he rest in peace.  I am not here to judge him or the way in which he died. I am here to celebrate his talent and thank him for his contribution...for his verse.