Oh Captain! My Captain!

Clichéd title, I am aware, but nothing else felt suiting enough.

To clarify: the title of this post is also the title of a Walt Whitman poem written about the death of the American president Abraham Lincoln, most popularized by the 1989 film Dead Poet’s Society. In the film, teacher John Keating tells his students they may call him “Oh Captain! My Captain!” if they felt daring. Quality film. Watch it if you haven’t.

I am writing this post on Monday within hours of hearing the news of the death of beloved actor Robin Williams, who brought life to roles like Keating and numerous others, because I don’t think I’ve ever been so affected by the death of a celebrity. I feel shocked and confused and sad, and I want to talk to someone about it, so why not myself. Or I guess also you, on Wednesday. But for now, it’s just me.

Robin Williams made a very strong impression on my very young self. Somewhere between Mrs. Doubtfire and Patch Adams I fell in love with his acting. I vividly remember my mom showing me Good Morning, Vietnam, which really solidified it all for me. He was my favourite actor as a child, still making the list today, and I am not just saying this in light of recent events. I’ve wanted to be an actor for most of my life, and the positive and happy feelings that Robin Williams evoked in my young self made me want to produce those feelings for myself in my own acting. Perhaps I didn’t understand this fully as a kid, but I could certainly see that he was hilarious and brilliant and talented and original, and I respected him and aspired to be him.

With this I do not claim to love Robin Williams any more than anyone else. In fact, I know there are so many other people who love him a whole lot more than I do, particularly those who knew him in person. Which I never did. The fact is, I have formed my positive opinion of Robin Williams almost entirely through the characters he has played. Our minds construct celebrities through their public persona: their performances, appearances, media portrayal. We know Robin Williams as Patch Adams and Mr. Keating and the Genie. We don’t know him as just Robin Williams, the person. Because first and foremost, he is a person. Artists express themselves through their creative endeavours, so I can only assume that Robin Williams was as loving and passionate and clever and funny as he has portrayed himself to me. But assumptions do not make a person. Every human goes through their own triumphs and struggles, and while sometimes all we see is the ups we need to understand and respect that there are the downs. We have no right to draw conclusions or make snap judgements. We should only show respect and as much understanding as we can.

Yes, the world has lost a brilliant actor and comedian, but more importantly, a man has lost his life. Forgive me if this is insensitive, but I feel like people react to death rather selfishly. It is natural and healthy to feel upset and to grieve (I certainly am very sad), but keep in mind that the strength of your sadness shouldn’t overshadow the bigger issue that a person is no longer alive. Robin Williams has suffered the greatest loss of all, and while I know everyone understands that, I just think we all need to continue to exercise our empathetic abilities in paying our respects. Death is a tragedy because it is death, not just because it is someone we all know and love.

I like to end these posts on a positive note, but I still think this is too recent to wrap things up with an optimistic quote from Sean Maguire. I’m having a tough time figuring out how I should deal with the death of a celebrity who I feel like I know but really don’t know at all. Grief is a funny thing. I will process and mourn and slowly come to a point of understanding, but right now I don’t feel right trying to force everything to be fine with a false positive outlook. Which, in my opinion, is totally okay. And I hope everyone who is also feeling deeply affected by his death will come to find their own place of happiness again as well.

Part of me doesn’t like the idea of adding to the number of responses to Robin Williams’ death on social media because something about this internet outpour gives me a weird feeling. But like I said, I am writing this for me, as my own way to deal with this shocking death that has impacted me more than I thought possible. Blogs are cheeper than therapy.

Regardless, thank you Robin Williams, for bringing so much joy to my life. If only I could have returned the favour.

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One thought on “Oh Captain! My Captain!

  1. I was also upset to hear about Robin Williams’ death, and I agree with you about the important thing being that a man has lost his life. I read an insensitive comment on Facebook where the person said something along the lines of “I don’t know who Robin Williams is, but I could tell you the last time he popped a bag of chips with all these statuses”. I felt like it was so disrespectful to say that, because even if you somehow don’t know who Robin Williams is, you should at least be grieved a little that a man took his life.

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