“Captain my Captain” — A Warning about Mental Illness as a Tribute to Robin Williams.
I have heard it said a lot on social media that losing Robin Williams was like losing a family member who you never really knew. He was the kind of entertainer who made us laugh and cry, cheer and scream, and even sometimes cringe. Robin Williams often said the things we wanted to say but would not or could not say. To me, he celebrated the very best and worse of the human soul all at once. Sure, he was a funny man and even sometimes too crude for my taste; but he was also a soft-hearted, sensitive, deeply profound man whose work inspired the best in many of us.
It is funny because I never knew him and yet I grew up with him. I remember watching the TV screen the very first time America saw him in Prime Time, when Robin Williams appeared on it on the TV Show Happy Days in 1978. I was eight years old. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=46cG2foNwiU
From there, I grew up watching Mork from Ork, going to see Good Morning Vietnam, The Cadillac Man, Dead Poet Society, Hook, Fisher King, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Good Will Hunting, Night at the Museum, and so forth. Robin just seemed to be there at every stage of my life. I bet if you stop and think about it there was a major Robin William movie in each segment of your life like mine.
What was less noticeable was that this silly, yet heart-warming alien on my TV was a life long addict suffering from depression, alcoholism, cocaine addiction, as well as multiple failed marriages and embarrassingly publicly reported STDS. After 20 years of sobriety, by 2003 Williams was back into a free-fall with alcohol and depression, which began to isolate him from his career and Hollywood’s willingness to take a risk on him at the box office. Folks close to him also report he felt humiliated that he had to return to TV after such a stellar film career. And if that was not bad enough, the shows ratings crashed through the floor and the show was cancelled in its first year in May. I highlight his struggles not to belittle his memory because honestly he is on my list of a handful of celebrities who I see as being great human beings. I highlight his fall from grace to tell you it can happen to anyone! Let’s make it clear to everyone out there so that there can be no doubt about it that alcoholism, drug addiction, and depression are real beasts that live in our world that can’t be played with and must be dealt with or they will destroy us. What Robin William teaches us is no matter how rich, or how popular, or how beloved (even by millions) you are, depression and addictions will still murder you. So I write this blog to say please take them seriously both in your life and in the life of those you love. Let us never mistake someones outward joy and laughter as inward calm and peace. It is often those who laugh loudest who are also cut the deepest.
Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV)
The truth is that the thief came and the thief broken into the life of Robin and killed and destroyed. Mental Illness is nobody’s fault it comes from a combination of living in a dark, dark sin soaked world, in concert with the chemical make up of your brain. Robin, was one of the brightest lights of the last 40 years and he touched countless of lives. I want to believe that the man I grew up with and loved did not kill himself, he did not hang himself. The way I see it, Robin Williams did not kill himself at all rather despite what the official report will say he was murdered! In short the thief broke into his life through his vices of addictions and killed and destroyed our beloved Robin Williams. It is through our vices that the devil gains a foothold in our lives and cast us to the ground and tramples us. But it is through our faith Jesus picks us up from the ashes of our failures and gives us life and life more abundantly! Please, I beg you all, fight the good fight, and let Jesus give you life, let Him close the vices of your life and keep the devil out.
In my favorite Robin William’s movie “Dead Poets Society” Robin Williams played a teacher named John Keating who teaches his students how to live life like it has purpose. His students lovingly call him, “Captain, My Captain” which is a quote from a Walt Whitman poem. They call him this as a way of showing him respect for showing them how to live life in Carpe diem mode. When one of the students commits suicide under the high stress of school and an abusive family life John Keating (Robin Williams) is blamed, railroaded and fired. Todd Anderson a deeply insecure and troubled youth who has been greatly helped in life by John Keating is conflicted because he knows his teacher has been railroaded but is fearful to stand up for him and get expelled. When John Keating comes to collect his things from the class room Todd stands on top of his desk as a sign of defiance to the institution disrupting the class and salutes his teacher saying, “O’Captain My Captain!” This sets off a chain reactions of students standing on their desk saying, “O’Captain My Captain!” and John Keating (Robin Williams) leaves his classroom not feeling defeated but knowing in his soul he taught the message he came to teach; “courage is more powerful then fear.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qSjxkbe_Vr4
Today Robin, my old childhood friend, I stand on my desk saying, “Captain my Captain; lesson learned, message received.” And I’ll add to that, let us all keep looking to the Ultimate Captain of all Captains in our times of depression and addictions for He (Jesus) has come to give us life more abundantly.