This week, world has lost an incredible talent. Robin Williams could entertain us and make us laugh uncontrollably just as easily as he could inspire and bring us to tears. Today we mourn the passing of an icon, not taken by illness or accident, but by his own design. He wrote the ending for a script that we were not prepared for. Like everyone else, I stopped when I heard the news, wondering if I'd heard correctly, and immediately started thinking about the many ways that he had entertained me, and yet wondered about the incredible inner struggle he must have had going on inside.
The blog I was working on just wasn't coming together and I hoped my walk this morning would bring the words that had been out of my reach. But instead, my thoughts kept coming back to Robin Williams - the characters he played and the life he probably led - and how all of those things could provide us with so many powerful lessons as teachers, parents, and just people. And so I have given in to those thoughts... and I hope you choose to read on.
Inspiration. The quotes I used to start this blog are from one of my favorite movies, Dead Poet's Society. I was inspired by Williams' character, English teacher John Keating, who defied the standard, dry, uninspiring, instructional delivery system as he worked to help students create meaningful connections to the literature they read and created. I have always wanted to stand on a desk and get kids' attention, without falling off and creating a scene! He challenged their thinking and encouraged them to take risks, think beyond the boundaries to make a difference, take charge of their own lives and become extraordinary. What more could teachers or parents aspire to do with and for our children? What more could we want our children to achieve?
Doing. Mrs. Doubtfire, another fabulously entertaining movie, provided us with gales of laughter, but more importantly a message of love and how we must take a stand, and stop talking about what we believe to be true, but take action instead. There was never a doubt that Williams' beloved character Daniel Hillard, turned housekeeper and nanny Mrs. Doubtfire, loved his children. But it took the loss of those children during his divorce to make him act on that love, doing what was required to see them and nurture them, no matter how outlandish the ploy seemed. What will we DO for others? What are we willing to sacrifice for those we love? We know parents will go to great lengths to protect their children in emergencies, and we have also seen many examples of teachers who shielded their students from the wrath of a tornado or gun-toting shooter. But what about the everyday advocacy that we all must do for our children to help them develop into learned, worthwhile citizens? Who will DO what is needed to make them feel loved, valued, and that who they are and what they do matter?
Beyond the Surface. Robin Williams made us laugh, but struggled with his own inner demons. Did laughter, or making others laugh, provide him relief for his own bouts of depression? Or did these attempts just mask the real problems? I have listened to and read many things about Robin Williams as tributes are paid to him and the pundits attempt to explain why this happened. My take on this is that we often show the world the side we know they want to see and mask our true needs or pain. We cope. We find ways to help ourselves feel normal or numb. We laugh when we are stressed or feel like crying. We act like we don't care when we really do care - a lot! Sometimes we medicate or drink or find some other artificial means to take away the pain, and then medicate some more so we can feel again. And sometimes we just say, enough is enough.
We must look around as educators, at the students and colleagues with whom we teach and work everyday. Do we take the time to know them well enough to see how they mask what is below the surface? Do we assume their outward facade is the real them? I love the quote that floats around on Facebook from time to time because it reminds me of myself.
"I'm a strong person, but every now and then I would like someone
to take my hand and tell me everything is going to be alright."
Those of us on whom many depend also have vulnerabilities but we often mask that need and brush off attempts to help us out. I had a principal once, who in his typical unprofessional way, was berating me for some imagined thing I had done or wasn't doing, and I started to cry. He then railed at me even more and asked why I was crying because I was always so tough nothing ever bothered me! I had covered my own insecurities quite well and his assumptions cracked that facade. What caused that final crack for Robin Williams'? We will probably never know. We would all like to believe it wasn't because he wasn't loved by his family and adoring fans but maybe it was because of the pressure that adoration caused. It would be an assumption on my part to think that maybe he didn't love himself as much as we did, but then again, mental illness makes us believe things that just aren't true or clouds our judgment of reality.
Today and Beyond. We must be willing to take the lessons of Robin Williams the man and learn from those as much as we learned from the characters he played. Life is not without struggle and hardship as we wrestle with our strengths and weaknesses, loves and losses, successes and disappointments, in order to find balance. What verse will you write today? How will you make a difference or change the world in some small way? Seize the Day and seek to live an extraordinary life!