The Man in the Moon

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Three nights ago the moon was only 180,000 miles away. It was rich with light, and it seemed that if I had a springboard I could have taken a running start and cleared the distance between my driveway and my bright destination. Named a super moon, it was the kind of sky that called you out of the house despite pajamas being on and knowing that there was one more load of laundry needing to be folded. That enchanting moon still so far and unreachable acted like Sirens of a mythological sea, and turning my back on that laundry, I padded outside in my bare feet to look up and out at the night's super moon.

Earlier that evening before the moon had taken over the night sky, I had learned of Robin Williams' death. While out, I received a text from my nephew who was watching my boys: Omg Robin Williams committed suicide. I had been nursing a glass of red wine, and figured I wasn't reading the message right, thinking Connor and my kids had watched a movie and Robin Williams' character had died. Once my head got around it, though, I quickly told my nephew to not talk about it with my children. I don't know why. I just wanted to talk to them about it first. Death is one thing. Suicide is a completely different beast. Connor's response read: William is who told me.

Williams performing for the USO in 2008.  - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • Williams performing for the USO in 2008.

For my boys, it wasn't really Robin Williams who died. It was Genie in Aladdin or Jumanji's Alan Parrish. Mrs. Doubtfire was gone. For me, it was the alien Mork from the television series in the early '80s and teacher John Keating in Dead Poets Society. It was also Bostonian therapist Sean Maguire, on-air-radio-personality Adrian Cronauer, and Teddy Roosevelt atop his fine horse. One man was gone but he had left behind an unforgettable cast of characters, including a matronly woman and a slapstick alien.

When I returned home from my evening out and sat on my son William's bed to talk about this actor's death, there was the additional burden of talking about the taking of his own life, an act so opposite from the optimistic and joyful roles he played. But it was Williams who fed me the lines from the wings of life's stage. The park bench scene in Good Will Hunting where Sean Maguire sets Will Hunting straight with a firm, quiet delivery. Maguire tells Will that no life can be summed up by another because no life is truly lived by another. Each life is owned by that one person. And while we as fellow human beings can offer an element of understanding and empathy for one another, we cannot sum up, predict the outcomes of and make those quick judgments as we so often do about lives we can't even begin to understand. And this is all because we can't even begin to know living a life that is not our very own. The classroom scene from Dead Poets Society (recently used in an Apple commercial) where John Keating calls his group of young teenage men into a huddle to call their attention to what we stay alive for -- beauty, romance and love. After quoting poet Walt Whitman, Keating asks these young men on the brink of living the larger chunk of their lives, what verse they will contribute to the powerful play of life.

On the edge of my oldest son's bed who -- like those students in Dead Poets Society -- is on the brink of living the larger chunk of his life -- Robin Williams gave me the "material" to explain that we can never know why someone takes his or her own life. Perhaps that person's verse had come to a close, and only that person could ever understand that. Being the author of that verse and the owner of that life, he was the only one to possess that knowledge and that decision. As fellow humans, we can only offer our understanding to a life we had never lived and in doing so venture outside to look out and up at the man in the moon.

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