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 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.