Robin Williams and Me – laughter and grief make strange companions

I had just graduated high school when Robin Williams hit the small screen. Mork & Mindy wasn’t groundbreaking (My Favorite Martian had already explored the funny side of having an extra-terrestrial for a houseguest). But Mork & Mindy had Robin Williams, and that made it as special as anyone could hope for.

His body moved in funny ways, his mind took his words to ad-libbed heights the show’s writers could only dream of reaching, and those occasional glimpses of gentleness tethered everything he did to a humanity that reached out and held us all close to his heart.

Without that gentleness he might easily have been judged a buffoon or, worse, a mean-spirited joker always just one step away from destroying his target. But he was neither buffoon nor joker. He was Robin Williams.

Robin Williams connected with me and my friends in ways that perhaps the rest of the country couldn’t appreciate. He was a fellow Bay Area kid having moved to Marin County by the time he was in high school, and he honed his comedic skills on the streets and in the clubs of San Francisco. None of us were as funny as he, but we could imitate him and even hope to run into him maybe if we were in the right neighborhood at the right time.

Mourning a Comedian While the World Burns

I never did get to meet him, never ran into him at a San Francisco restaurant, never saw him perform at a comedy club. He appeared on the screen and I laughed. Or I cried, depending on which movie I watched. Because he could do that to a person, and in some movies – like Good Morning Vietnam – he could do both.

Mourning him seems odd in a way, though. Our world is reeling from one tragedy to another. War sweeps across Iraq once again, the latest in a horrific multitude of conflicts going on across the Middle East. Ebola runs rampant across swaths of Africa. Children from tiny villages in Central America are forced to leave their homes and journey north without family because of the drug violence at home.

These tragedies are with us, and yet I mourn the loss of Robin Williams. Why?

Robin Williams (Wikipedia)

Robin Williams

Robin Williams had a gift, a good one. And like all good gifts, it came from God. (James 1:17.) God’s gift of laughter is not to be taken lightly, either. The Bible says that laughter is as meaningful as grief:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: … a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4.)

That’s what Robin Williams brought us: times to laugh and weep and dance.

And now we have a time to mourn.

And then I might just watch a genie in a cave convince a peasant boy that he ain’t never had a friend like that genie.

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15 Responses to Robin Williams and Me – laughter and grief make strange companions

  1. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts on a great talent, Tim. That’s a neat connection you have with him despite never having met him. And you’re right, there’s a time to laugh and a time to mourn; it makes sense to mourn the loss of someone who gave us so much laughter. I watched Mork and Mindy faithfully too, as a kid, and loved him in Dead Poets’ Society, Aladdin, Patch Adams, and one of my very favourites, The Fisher King. It is so sad that he has died. Depression and addiction are so insidious and so many people lose the fight with them.

    • Tim says:

      It’s sad that a person who lifted the spirits of many through his talent found himself in the depths of depression. It’s not uncommon, but it is ironic.

  2. Aimee Byrd says:

    Great thoughts Tim. You point out just how far reaching the curse from sin is. War, drugs, persecution, and even within our own selves: depression. It is something to mourn for sure. And Robin William’s work did touch so many.

    • Tim says:

      Laughter from God in the midst of sin is one of his wonderful graces, and I am so thankful for it. What a blessing to have people who can make us laugh!

      • Shalini says:

        Delayed reaction, nevertheless, couldn’t agree more Tim!! Also loved what you shared about Robin’s giftedness and occasional glimpses of gentleness that tethered him to humanity. Thanks for a sensitively written tribute and highlighting laughter as a gift from God.

  3. Beth Caplin says:

    There are already some people on my media feeds talking about how RIP is inappropriate to say about Robin because he wasn’t a Christian.

    Even as a Christian, I don’t know what to say to those people…it’s barely been 24 hours, really??

    • Tim says:

      I’d tell those people to focus on Christ and consider that he has given us the Spirit who is the God of all comfort. Robin Williams was made in the image of God, and that is reason enough to hope he has peace. I’m not qualified to pass judgment upon his salvation, and frankly there’s no need to.

  4. michellevl says:

    “His body moved in funny ways, his mind took his words to ad-libbed heights the show’s writers could only dream of reaching, and those occasional glimpses of gentleness tethered everything he did to a humanity that reached out and held us all close to his heart.”

    Well said, Tim. Thanks for this.

  5. Ruth says:

    Your lovely blog has me in tears, just because, as well as watching a wonderful person finally give way under the weight of such awful illness, his photos show the anguish in his face so much.
    Clever, brilliant, funny, sad, part of my growing up, part of my aging, he was able to comfort everyone but himself.
    I do wish him peace, and whatever God chooses, just wish the critics of his pain could feel a little of it.
    I admit freely to having anxiety and stress and a family history of emotional problems, but I don’t believe they are of my spirit, any more than my broken ankle was!
    ‘love and pain and the whole damned thing’ , seems to fit this wonderful mans life.

    • Tim says:

      We live in a fallen world that has many graces and blessings in it. His life showed us how those graces and blessings and fallenness can occur all at once, just as you say: “love and pain and the whole damned thing.”

  6. We need more people who make us laugh in good not mean ways.

    • Tim says:

      Ain’t that the truth. We lost one such person with Robin Williams’ passing. His life is a reminder that God gives us laughter as a gift and we should rejoice in him as we enjoy it.

  7. Erica M. says:

    I grew up in a family where funeral visitations were usually punctuated by laughter, because someone was telling a story about the deceased. I’ve found this helps ease the grief. Robin Williams may be gone but his humor remains with us. 🙂

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