on robin williams’ passing, compassion

Tonight at work, a handful of friends came to visit me at work for drinks and dinner. It was especially nice to have visitors on this particular day, when I was exhausted after working two 16-hour days in a row and cranky after having zero chance for social interaction outside of work. Apparently I’d also had zero chance to read the news that day, as I heard from them that Robin Williams had passed away of an apparent suicide.

Most importantly… to the man who gave us Aladdin, Ms. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Flubber, and an entire archive of work I have yet to see, rest in peace. I checked out your list of titles on IMDb and you were like a seriously busy dude. I envy the ease with which you were able to make others laugh, and find it inspiring that you were able to put your talents to such good use. Every time the topic of earthquakes comes up in conversation I quote you.

But easily the most troubling factor in the loss of Robin Williams is the manner in which he went.

During my senior year of high school, my friend’s father committed suicide. It absolutely devastated his family and the hundreds of people in the San Rafael community who knew him personally. He was one of your friendly neighborhood dads, coach of the local kid’s soccer league, present at every school event. I credit this man almost entirely for my love for classic rock. He loaned me all his Jethro Tull and Zeppelin albums and always encouraged my musical endeavors along with those of all the other band nerds we hung out with.

We graduated high school and left for college, and I had still not completely made sense of what had happened. In junior year, I was presented the opportunity to work it out on paper in one of my writing courses. Everything always makes more sense for me on paper. I wrote a short story entitled ‘Nobody Noticed’, blaming the fact that none of us had seen it coming in time to do something about it on the superficiality that runs through the veins of Marin County, where everyone is hyperconcerned about maintaining some sort of appearance, and no one had dug deep enough to see that he was sick. I concluded that in order for the logic to line up that abandoning his family and those who loved him would be a good solution, something had to be terribly wrong. I figured that everyone was too busy going about their Marin-y life to have any inkling at all that something like that could be coming.

Tonight, it became clear that people in Marin are not the only ones obsessed with preserving some facade of perfection. Every one of us wakes up in the morning and prepares to put our best face forward, for others to see and be able to assume that we are doing okay. We are all putting on a show. It’s so much easier that way.

For example. I am now a more-than-full-time bartender who smiles like it’s my job and shoots the shit with all my bar guests I barely know fifty hours a week and hardly, if ever, talk to them about my own problems. How would anyone actually know what’s going on in my head unless they ask, or I volunteer to tell them? It’s a fucking shitstorm in my head these days… all the things I can’t stand about my job(s), applying to graduate school, making enough money to pay for graduate school, wondering if pursuing that graduate degree in journalism is even going to work out for me, am I exercising enough to keep anxiety at bay, my personal life or lack thereof, the amount of time I’m spending not working on my portfolio, etc., etc., along with all the other shit that we millenials whine about day in and day out and makes us the worst generation ever, I know.

How would anyone guess? Service is like acting. You check all your problems at the door so you can put on a show for guests because it’s all about them. On the flip side, at work every day I see hundreds of faces. We move quickly through crowds when we get slammed during happy hour or dinner rushes and the fewer faces that slow us down the better. I don’t slow down to talk because often I don’t have time.

Robin William’s passing has reminded me to re-introduce a little compassion into the way I interact with people. As that one quote goes that has been shared and re-shared but didn’t resonate particularly strongly until today:

Everyone is battling a private battle that you know nothing about.

I made a promise to myself on my walk home from work that I’d call all my friends I hadn’t heard from in awhile and just say hello. There’s no excuse for falling out of touch with those you care about. Keep your loved ones close, as you have no idea what’s actually going on in their heads unless you ask.



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