It’s been suggested that in addition to their basal function in preventing our eyeballs from turning to potato chips, tears are a signaling mechanism for social support, a way to get rid of accumulated stress hormones after an intense bout of emotional arousal—good or bad—and even a means of triggering the endorphins that make us feel better. But so many were shed in the aftermath of Robin William’s unfortunate meet-up with destiny, that we’re reminded of the commonality in our tears—one that diffuses a greater anxiety and ties us all to the ineffable.
On the surface it seems paradoxical that someone who made us laugh so hard and so often would also bring so many to spontaneous tears at his loss, but as the old saw reminds us, “Comedy = tragedy + time”. The emotional basis for both laughter and tears is spawned from the same need for community, and whether we’re rolling in the spasms of our guffaws or huddled in those of our sobs, the mechanics are essentially the same. Indeed, we can literally laugh until we cry—or cry until we laugh—which brings us back around to our widely-lamented friend.
There’s something very special about those honest souls who can lift us to hilarity, and even more special still about those with whom we associate that joy. For with laughter comes a sense of safety–even if we’re under intense pressure, and even if only for that brief moment it takes us to snatch back our bearings and carry on. Battlefield humor, ER humor, gallows humor; when we’re laughing, we join something timeless, something stronger than ourselves and our terrors. “I get it” brings us to inclusion—and a return the safety of the group.
Through his very outrageousness, Williams assuaged those fears of ostracism and “aloneness”; he touched our inner nerd, and gave us outliers blessing. So when someone we’ve trusted with that enormous vulnerability leaves us—especially intentionally—there’s a sense of mutual betrayal, as though we, personally, could have helped him stick around—if only.
Yes, we cry when we remember the bullies, the rotten lovers, the trusted friends who’ve let us down; but Robin Williams never hurt us, he just brought us back to our humanity when we were feeling alienated and excluded. From the very beginning, when he careened off the stage and up and down the aisles of the Ash Grove, bouncing off those fabled walls while railing against Nixon, Vietnam, aliens and Hollywood in general, he was our avatar of release. Another generation came to love him as Mork, and another still as “Genie” in Walt Disney’s “Alladin”. Then there were all those hankie-wringing turns in Garp, Dead Poets, Fisher King, Good Will, PatchDoubtfireJackandonandonandon….
And now he’s gone—like the djiini in the lamp—leaving us to grieve, however briefly, for ourselves.
RIP Little Monkeyman. Sure wish I could have helped (sniff).
Here’s a link to Robin’s seminal album, “Reality. What a Concept!” Well worth a(nother) listen and quite possibly a tear or two–tears of the very best sort.