Farewell to Robin Williams: a thank you note

 

robin

me and him

 

Robin Williams died today.

It seems surreal to write that.

But since writing is the way I process the incomprehensible — I find myself writing.

Everyone is tweeting and facebooking and calling into radio shows about what a great talent Robin was.

Yeah. He was. But that wasn’t what I adored about him. It was the fact that he was an incredibly kind human being.

When I was 14 years old, I went on location to film Mrs. Doubtfire for five months, and my high school was not happy. My job meant an increased workload for teachers, and they were not equipped to handle a “non-traditional” student. So, during filming, they kicked me out.

It’s devastating, at 14, to have your formal education terminated. I felt like a freak and a reject. When I arrived at work the next day, Robin noticed that I was upset and asked me what was wrong. I explained what had happened, and shortly after that, he handed me a letter that he had written to my school. He explained that I was just trying to continue my education while pursuing my career. He wrote embarrassingly kind things about my character and my work, and requested that they reconsider and allow me to return to my classes.

When I told him I still didn’t think they would take me back, he said, “It’s kinda like Amnesty International. That school just needs to know that people know the truth.”

The school framed the letter. They hung it in the principal’s office. But they didn’t invite me to return to school.

But here’s what matters from that story. Robin stood up for me. He was in my corner. I was only 14, but I had already seen that I was in an industry that was full of back-stabbing. And it was entirely clear that Robin had my back.

I know I said thank you at the time and I’m sure I wrote one of those stiff thank you notes that 14-year-olds write with slanting lines and spelling mistakes. But that all seems so insufficient now.

Even though I had not spoken with Robin in a very long time, I always assumed there would be some future opportunity to tell him that his letter changed my life. It taught me that you stand up for the things that matter. And even if your attempts fail, you tried. You told the truth. You took care of your friends. You fought back.

None of us really know what fights Robin was battling* but I know his struggles were not uncommon. It’s estimated that 16 million people in the US have struggled with depression – and I include myself in that statistic. It’s real and it’s not shameful and there is help available.

You can bring it to the light, you can tell the truth, you can go to a meeting, you can reach out to a friend.

None of us are alone.

And if you have someone in your life who you are grateful for — someone to whom you want to write another heartfelt, slanted, misspelled thank you note – do it. Tell them they made you feel loved and supported. That they made you feel like you belonged somewhere and that you were not a freak.

Tell them all of that.

Tell them today.

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The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

*ETA – Since I wrote this article, Robin’s wife publicly discussed his other health issues. Obviously, I don’t know the reasons for his decision but I do know that he had struggled with depression, regardless of whether it was a factor here. Depression was something that he and I talked about. I’m not intending to diagnose anyone – just sharing a story about someone I loved.


Here is the letter:

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“So, what is Robin Williams like?”

Sometimes I try to estimate how many times I’ve been asked this question over the years.

And if you replace Robin’s name with Will Smith/Pierce Brosnan/Sally Field/Timothy Dalton….

Innumerable times.

I understand why. These people are beloved. Folks want to know if he was funny or she was nice or he was high. I get it.

But I’m curious, how do people expect me to answer? All of those actors were lovely and that’s how I respond. But even if they weren’t – I’m NEVER going to say that. Why would I slam anyone to you, a person who I just met at the grocery store? Would you say something other than “they’re great” about your co-workers to a random person in the cereal aisle?

I guess people want a funny little tidbit about what that famous person was like, but here’s the truth — I am too preoccupied trying to look composed while chatting with a stranger and simultaneously attempting to hide the dandruff shampoo in my cart to come up with a pithy story at that moment. Plus the fact that it was like, 20 years ago, and many of those stories are not crystal clear anymore.

It also brings up another uncomfortable aspect of this whole thing. If that’s the first/only thing you ask me – maybe you don’t really care anything about me as a person. Maybe you are just using me to get a story about someone else. It’s like having a super popular older brother and everyone just wants to know about him.

I’m interesting, too. Not because I might be able to tell you something funny about Robin Williams, but because I’ve danced in the baraat at an Indian wedding, once fed carrots to a wallaby and have undergone hypnosis. And I’ll bet you’re interesting, too, but I’ll never know because I’m trying to come up with a cute story you can retweet.

But since I still get asked, I’ll go on autopilot and say the thing I’ve said a bajillion times:

“Yeah, he/she was really great…”

And it will be true.

But I’ll always wonder if there wasn’t a more interesting conversation we could have had.

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