“Yeah, well, I’ve got a dream too. But it’s about singing and dancing and making people happy. The kind of dream that gets better the more people you share it with. And, well, I’ve found a whole bunch of friends who have the same dream. And it kind of makes us like a family.”
– Kermit the Frog, The Muppet Movie
I can’t help but think that Robin Williams was a big fan of Jim Henson, creator of Kermit and the rest of the Muppets. Given that Williams appeared numerous times on Sesame Street, this has to be the case. I grew up on the Muppet Movie, and to this day, “The Rainbow Connection” tugs at all my heartstrings. While I never liked Robin Williams as much as I did the Muppets, in reflecting on Williams’ work, I see that same spirit. And now Williams joins Henson and so many other entertainers who died just trying to accomplish that very simple task of singing and dancing and making people happy. For that reason, the loss of Robin Williams feels a lot like the loss of part of my family, because he made it his life goal to make people like me happy.
With all the injustice and death in the world right now, it doesn’t feel like any of us deserve happiness. It also seems silly to mourn this one man none of us really even knew in the first place over the thousands upon thousands dying in Iraq, Gaza, and elsewhere. But what makes something like Williams’ death so poignant is that he challenged us all to find joy in a world that contains atrocities like Iraq and Gaza. He asked us to confront despair and death with a brazen smile. Against the odds, it all felt a little absurd, and honestly that was always what unsettled me about Williams’ work: why was he trying so hard to make people smile? What was with how he tried so hard to find simple-minded joy even in the face of death?
In retrospect, knowing that Williams fought and lost a lifelong battle with depression, I understand. This was his struggle, to smile and laugh and tell jokes. But he lost. If even such a man should give in to depression, should we abandon the hope he taught us to seek?
I continue to believe in Williams. I still hold on to hope. Let me tell you a little story: the Norse people said that at the end of time, the gods would knowingly ride to their deaths. The giant Surtr would rise up from the south to destroy the world. During the Ragnarok, the god Freyr would ram an elk horn deep into the giant’s eye, but the giant would swing his burning sword and kill Freyr.
This is Williams’ story. He faced the giant Despair with the utmost courage. With his smiles, his jokes, and his unabashed joy, Williams drove a horn deep into the eye of the giant only to be slain in the process. He could not kill it, but he would be damned if he did nothing to resist!
And this is how we should remember Robin Williams: a man of incredible bravery who fought to the last against an insurmountable foe — a man who tried to make people happy in a world that so often tempts us to give up hope. And maybe we can’t fix the world. Maybe death and misery will never leave us. I don’t care. Let us all cling to the hope of a better world even to the point of death, because that makes us better people.
Let us mourn for a life lost, but let us honor him by never giving up on joy. Let us keep singing, dancing, and making people happy — each in our own small ways, just as Williams taught us.
And to Williams, thank you so much for your life. We will miss you. Goodbye.