I don’t remember any three weeks in history infiltrating my psychotherapy office the way August 9 through August 29, 2014 have. Each client who came in to talk about the internal angst and the external circumstances of his or her own life, talked also about the shooting of Michael Brown, the unrest in Ferguson, the speculation, the witnesses, the national media’s fixation and national civil rights leaders opportunism. They also talked about the suicide of Robin Williams, and while these two events would seemingly have little do with one another, they presented macro and micro examples of a world void of positive choices in the face of insurmountable despair.
It would be easy to categorize this as a “what’s it all about?” moment in time, but there is nothing easy here. It’s not even much of a teachable moment. It is a sad and angry moment and to attempt to expand it into something larger is to lose sight of the extraordinary grief we feel.
Early on when the looting and destruction had taken place, someone asked me, “Why people would do that to their own community?” The person who asked me happened to be an individual with a history of self-harm and suicidal ideations. I considered my answer carefully for the sake of the individual, but also answered from a global, social justice perspective. This type of question has arisen during many conferences, workshops, trainings and classes at which I have presented. In those venues the comments are barely more subtle: I don’t understand why someone on food stamps would spend $200.00 on tennis shoes. That music is so loud and the lyrics are filthy. No wonder there are no grocery stores. No one takes care of their yards up there. What do you do when someone calls you a racist? Why should I apologize? I’m not a racist.
Why would people do that to their own community? Risky, but I answered. “You know how you feel when everything seems overwhelming and you try to ask for help but no one hears you or takes you seriously? They don’t see things the way you do? Many days the only thing you know to do is to hurt yourself because hurting anyone else is not an option? Some days, you even feel like destroying yourself because you feel like no one cares. I see a community of people who feel similar to how you feel.”
Then Robin Williams died. I am (sadly) seldom surprised by much. I have lived a life which has been full of love, sorrow, dramatic interludes, and passive abandonments. I am a social introvert who was never too shy to take a risk. I learned my profession by the seat of my pants and I honed my art while drawing fire. I did not see Robin Williams’ suicide coming and because of that, I was both relieved to find I was not entirely jaded and grief stricken at the loss of someone – not that I grew up with – but grew older with. Robin was the best and worst of my generation. Too much too fast, watching peer after peer disintegrate or implode, turning away from substances in search of something substantial. He fought the good fight on behalf of those less fortunate. We may never know the reason he took his life, but we may speculate that he was tired and sad and angry. Maybe Parkinson’s disease, with its slow neurological decline felt like one fight too many for the sharp-witted and physically frenzied comic. Perhaps he was scared of something that felt big, dark, and unknown to him.