Tuesday, August 12, 2014
RIP Robin Williams
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”
-- Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. Yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.
- David Foster Wallace
I'd usually add my usual Rush song, "Afterimage," which is my go-to song for someone dying. It's appropriate, given the opening lines--"Suddenly you were gone / From all the lives you left your mark upon."
But they have a much more powerful song, 'The Pass,' on the "Presto" disc that hits pretty hard, the way news of Robin Williams' death did:
Here's a link to the Songfacts page for "The Pass," in which Neil Peart says of suicide that "I just can't relate to it at all, but I wanted to write about it. And the facet that I most wanted to write about was to demythologize it - the same as with 'Manhattan Project' - it demythologized the nuclear age, and it's the same thing with this facet - of taking the nobility out of it and saying that yes, it's sad, it's a horrible, tragic thing if someone takes their own life, but let's not pretend it's a hero's end. It's not a triumph. It's not a heroic epic. It's a tragedy, and it's a personal tragedy for them, but much more so for the people left behind, and I really started to get offended by the samurai kind of values that were attached to it, like here's a warrior that felt it was better to die with honor, and all of that kind of offended me. I can understand someone making the choice; it's their choice to make. I can't relate to it, and I could never imagine it, for myself, but still I thought it's a really important thing to try to get down."
I like Peart's modification of an Oscar Wilde quote in the chorus:
All of us get lost in the darkness
Dreamers learn to steer by the stars
All of us do time in the gutter
Dreamers turn to look at the cars
...but I disagree that there's some heroic battle here. Depression is a pain unlike anything physical. When it combines with despair, nothing else in life matters. It all goes away--family, friends, accomplishments. Dawn Summers posted this on Twitter--"How depression makes suicide look:"
I haven't been this close to it, but I've seen the view. It fucking sucks. There aren't many famous people I care that much about, but only three make me choke up when I think of them, for the way they touched so many people's lives: Johnny Carson, Carl Sagan, and now Robin Williams.