Writer Anne Lamott Makes Sense Out of the Tragedy of Robin Williams' Death

8/13/2014 2:00 PM PDT, by
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If you're at all unfamiliar with the stellar Anne Lamott, she's a writer. She's a very, very good writer, and a person with a massive amount of insight. You can Google her and spend the rest of your day uncovering gems about this amazingly enlightened woman, but before you do that, you need to read what she wrote about the passing of Robin Williams, because even though she says that there's no "sense" to what happened, it seems she's uncovered the sense we might actually be able to make of the circumstance if we're open-minded enough to try. 

Take it away, Anne:

This will not be well written or contain any answers or be very charming. I won't be able to proof read it. It is about times like today when the abyss is visible and we cannot buy cute area rugs at IKEA to truck out the abyss. Our brother Robin fell into it yesterday. We are all staring at the abyss today.

I called my Jesuit friend the day after the shootings in Newtown, stunned, flat, fixated, scared to death: "Is there any meaning in the deaths of twenty 5 and 6 year old children?"

Tom said, "Not yet."

And there is no meaning in Robin's death, except as it sheds light on our common humanity, as his life did. But I've learned that there can be meaning without things making sense.

Here is what is true: a third of the people you adore and admire in the world and in your families have severe mental illness and/or addiction. I sure do. I have both. And you still love me. You help hold me up. I try to help hold you up. Half of the people I love most have both; and so do most of the artists who have changed and redeemed me, given me life. Most of us are still here, healing slowly and imperfectly. Some days are way too long.

And I hate that, I want to say. I would much prefer that God have a magic wand, and not just a raggedy love army of helpers. Mr. Roger's mother told him when he was a boy, and a tragedy was unfolding that seemed to defy meaning, "Look to the helpers." That is the secret of life, for Robin's family, for you and me.

I knew that those children at Sandy Hook were caught in God's loving maternal arms at the second each crossed over, and the teachers were, too. I believe the shooter was too, another child of God with severe mental illness, because God loves, period. But this is controversial.

I know Robin was caught too, in both the arms of God, and of his mother, Laurie.

I knew them both when I was coming up, in Tiburon. He lived three blocks away on Paradise drive. His family had money; ours didn't. But we were in the same boat--scared, shy, with terrible self esteem and grandiosity. If you have a genetic predisposition towards mental problems and addiction, as Robin and I did, life here feels like you were just left off here one day, with no instruction manual, and no idea of what you were supposed to do; how to fit in; how to find a day's relief from the anxiety, how to keep your beloved alive; how to stay one step ahead of abyss.

We all thought after Newtown that gun control legislation would be passed, but no--not one new law. We think in the aftermath of Robin's death that there will be consciousness raising about mental health, but I doubt it. The shock and awe will pass, like it did after Phillip Seymour Hoffman's death. Unless...unless we take action. But what? I don't have a clue. Well, here's Glenn Close's astonishing organization to raise awareness and diminish the stigma of mental illness, where you can give OR receive help: http://www.bringchange2mind.org. Go there, OK?

In Newtown, as in all barbarity and suffering, in Robin's death, on Mount Sinjar, in the Ebola towns, the streets of India's ghettos, and our own, we see Christ crucified. I don't mean that in a nice, Christian-y way. I mean that in the most ultimate human and existential way. The temptation is to say, as cute little believers sometimes do, Oh it will all make sense someday. The thing is, it may not. We still sit with scared, dying people; we get the thirsty drinks of water.

This was at theologian Fred Buechner blog today: "It is absolutely crucial, therefore, to keep in constant touch with what is going on in your own life's story and to pay close attention to what is going on in the stories of others' lives. If God is present anywhere, it is in those stories that God is present. If God is not present in those stories, then they are scarcely worth telling."

Live stories worth telling! Stop hitting the snooze button. Try not to squander your life on meaningless, multi-tasking bullshit. I would shake you and me but Robin is shaking us now.

Get help. I did. Be a resurrection story, in the wild non-denominational sense. I am.

If you need to stop drinking or drugging, I can tell you this: you will be surrounded by arms of love like you have never, not once, imagined. This help will be available twenty/seven. Can you imagine that in this dark scary screwed up world, that I can promise you this? That we will never be closed, if you need us?

Gravity yanks us down, even a man as stunning in every way as Robin. We need a lot of help getting back up. And even with our battered banged up tool boxes and aching backs, we can help others get up, even when for them to do so seems impossible or at least beyond imagining. Or if it can't be done, we can sit with them on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity. You know how I always say that laughter is carbonated holiness? Well, Robin was the 
ultimate proof of that, and bubbles are spirit made visible.

There really isn't any more to add to this. Everybody needs to read this, and everybody needs to share this, and everybody needs to believe this. We're on the brink of many, many changes to occur in humanity, friends. 

Are you a helper, or are you the one who needs to be helped? Maybe you're a combination of the two. The bottom line, though, is that you need to let people know who you are. Let them in. You need to shout out that you're available and you're open and you're unafraid of being afraid, and dammit, you won't hide anymore.

No more of this. No more. Help everyone and be helped by everyone, for the love of God. 

Filed Under:  Robin Williams , Anne Lamott , Photos

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Comments

Clair
73 days ago

I've been a lurker for a long time, but I'm breaking my status today. Thank you, Sarah, for posting such a wonderful article.

1 Reply
Daphne Macklin
73 days ago

Amen

Ulla
72 days ago

Thank you for sharing your personal story and understanding of the real person behind the actor we all got to love and laugh with. Here is a piece I wrote in response to his passing, looking at it from the greater reality perspective.

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