Some Lessons From Robin Williams
I like pajama days with hot tea, my favourite movies and nothing in particular I need to do. Those days come along about as often as a solar eclipse, but when they do they are heavenly, especially when I have new cozy pj’s—that’s over-the-top pure amazingness.
I snuggled in close with my hound (my boys were away) to watch Patch Adams and Dead Poet’s Society, two of my all time favourites. Robin Williams has a way of capturing passion and compassion. It’s impossible to watch these movies and not be compelled to be a difference maker in the world. Both Patch Adams and Dead Poet’s Society capture the essence of what it means to live a vibrant, creative and adventurous life that is contagious and influential. Sometimes we go through life half asleep—a contained, safe, paint by number existence that leaves us feeling like dried up fruit that’s lost all its juiciness.
Both movies challenge the belief that we are robots with nothing new to bring to the table. How often does that thought cross our mind—a “been there done that” mentality? “Been there done that” doesn’t exist. Each one of us is unique with something fresh and new being birthed inside of us that’s never seen the light of day. It’s pushing to get out, yet we hold back and become imprisoned in self-doubt and compulsive worry about being awkward or different. That’s a risk we take along the road less travelled or the road that has not been travelled at all. There has never been nor will there ever be anyone like Robin Williams. He never tried to squeeze himself into a prefabricated box. He blew the seams out of any container and his one-of-a-kind personality traits came out in the characters of Patch Adams and the unorthodox schoolteacher John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society. I could see the treasure of Robin William’s sensitivity and kindness shining like bright sunlight as I watched the shows. I felt a deep sorrow that he’s no longer with us.
How many of us only become a seedling of what we are intended to be because we live small. George Eliot says, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” We can start now. We can begin to stretch out our comfort zones and take a few risks, and in doing so we come closer to our true selves. We find our sweet spot only when we get a little squirmy and take chances. Usually after life pummels us enough times, we go into our shell of safety like a turtle hiding from its predators. Each time we risk coming out of our shell of protection, we get hit again and decide its not worth the risk of coming out—life is too unpredictable and fierce. But our shells of apathy, indifference and numbness become intolerable because we were created for a noble quest—a Patch Adams/John Keating experience where life is lived big and people can’t help but be changed in our presence because we’ve woken up and know who we are.
I hide a lot, but I’m learning not to. We were never created to be puny conformists. I need truckloads of God’s mercy to forgive me for seeing myself less than. God’s a creative genius—all we need to do is look around to see that. But when I cave on a hard day and see myself as flawed, boring, uncreative and small I need God to defibrillate me so I come alive and continue the quest I have begun. We all need to have a defibrillation experience now and again.
Try something new, like dancing or painting or riding a unicycle. Step out of daily routines and change things up a bit. Make more mistakes. Make a fool of yourself now and again. Be noticers of life.
One of my favourite scenes in Dead Poet’s Society is when Mr. Keating gives each of his students a piece of paper with quotes by Walt Whitman. He then has them read the lines of poetry out loud as they boot the soccer ball as hard as they can. He’s inspiring them to be the best versions of themselves. Here are a few of the quotes from that scene:
"Oh to struggle against great odds. To meet enemies undaunted."
"To be a sailor of the world, bound for all ports."
"To dance, clap hands, exalt, shout, skip, roll on, float on."
"Oh, to have life henceforth the poem of new joys."