I am in mourning. My comic idol is Robin Williams. The tragic loss of Robin should be a dark reminder — the will to live comes from within, even for the most talented amongst us. He had everything and yet he had nothing in his eyes, at least not enough to keep him on this earth. Why? And is his death any more tragic than any other suicide? Aren’t all lives precious? I suspect most of us would admit, in a moment of absolute honesty, that we have had the same “fleeting thought” at difficult intersections in our lives? But we are still here. I ask the question again — why?
The answer to that question has been a lifelong pursuit for me. The answer matters.
Science is moving at light speed, past the building blocks of life in the universe — carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen — to the origins of life itself, and may be on the cusp of discovering the Higgs boson, the so-called God particle thought to be responsible for the creation of life. To you geeks, nerds and techies, I am cheering for you with pom-poms in hand. But as amazing as your discovery would be, it is Robin’s suicide that has me at the local Woods Coffee, asking myself fundamentally different questions for the umpteenth time: “What gives us the will to live? What sustains us in our darkest of moments?”
In my younger years, my answer was love. Most of us are walking wounded to one extent or another because — right or wrong — we perceive that we weren’t unconditionally loved as a child or an adult by those who mattered most to us. Few of us escape our childhoods unscarred. Some become emotionally needy or bitter, and their personal and professional lives are constant push/pull interactions to manipulate others to fill this primal love void. Others turn the negative into a positive by giving love freely to anyone and everyone. Regardless, it is the need for love certainly drives many of our behaviors in life.
But does love, by itself, give us the will to live? Not for Robin. He had his family’s unconditional love and the world’s adulation and respect and yet love didn’t sustain him. Love was not his answer when his world became dark. Why? There’s that question again. Something was missing and humor was his mask. As the love of others and his own self-love poured into his genius of a comic soul, his need for love was simply greater. In the end, Robin proved that he was no different than you or me at this fundamental level of life — he was broken; he was human. To everyone who shares his same pain, his internal battle was obvious. The mask was for his benefit, not ours. Don’t we all struggle with this mathematical equivalent of a “love” equation at times? I do.
Robin, we get it. You were wrong. You were not alone. I am angry for you and others in that same dark space in life — how many precious souls will be lost to suicide today, tomorrow, next week? And what can you or I do about it? Forget the Higgs boson. What is the emotional God particle that brings meaning to life?
Love is most certainly part of the answer, but the baseline variable in the “will to live” equation, I submit, is hope. You can hope for love, but you can’t love for hope. Whether you are spiritual, religious, atheist, agnostic, apathetic or just plain angry in life — we all share the common thread of hope. It is our common emotional glue that binds us to our future. Lose hope and there is no reason to care, no reason to follow life’s rules or laws, no reason not to tie the knot, pull the trigger, or jump.
So, as we approach the holiday season, take a moment and go to someone else’s world, especially teenagers, who don’t yet even have the life experience to know what to hope for. As adults, we do. Look for their pain — it is in their eyes. Their silent cry for help is in their erratic rollercoaster behavior. And when you ask “how are you,” mean it. Stop, listen and talk.
This could be your chance to give hope to someone who needs it.