Editorial: Robin Williams and our response to despair
This is a difficult editorial paved in eggshells. We want to say something constructive while fearing we may say something wrong. What if, instead of being helpful, our words unwittingly cause destruction?
Such are the eggshells the nation crosses in trying to deal with suicide.
Our reflections today on the tragedy of actor Robin Williams are complex and varied.
Our goal, however, is simple but mightily ambitious: to somewhere out there save a life.
Like so many, we long admired Williams' talent, his evident genius, his apparent sensitivity.
What to make of his loss?
Some explanations go beyond our understanding. Wealth, fame, accomplishment -- we tend to think these are keys to happiness. But if we look to these things to sustain us, we look in the wrong direction.
We have a friend whose father took his life decades ago. Her sense of self-worth was forever altered. Today, she rarely thinks of him. To do so still brings too fresh a pain.
As Williams' daughter, Zelda, said, "I'll never ever understand how he could be loved so deeply and not find it in his heart to stay."
If you ever contemplate suicide, please remember that. Please remember the victims you would leave behind. Please remember the withering legacy you would bequeath to those you love.
To be sure, Williams suffered from depression, a despondence of such depths that most of us can't comprehend.
Rolling Stone magazine once quoted a foreboding description from writer David Foster Wallace of that kind of illness: "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 ... It's not desiring the fall; it's terror of the flames."
That kind of despair may not be rational. And often, it may not be chronic. But it feels real and forever to those going through it.
That's something the rest of us need to understand. Those who experience it need to understand there is help.
In Williams' case, think of the laughter he'll never enjoy, the exchanges with his family he'll never have, the movies he'll never make, the people whose lives he will not touch. His best work, his most meaningful experiences, his greatest contributions may have lain ahead.
Few of us are movie stars, but our futures beckon with similar possibilities. The future is not all dark; the future also holds life's beautiful moments of light.
On the giant beams of the Golden Gate Bridge, in tourist view of the Tiburon Peninsula where Williams lived, crisis messages warn: "The consequences of jumping from this bridge are fatal and tragic."
Above those warnings, this reassurance:
"There is hope. Make the call."
If you ever grow despondent, please remember that.