I still miss him. It’s been nearly two years, and I still miss him.
No, I’m not writing about anyone I know; I’m writing Robin Williams.
I never met him. Never said a word to him. I have stood in the same hemisphere as him, have seen many of his movies.
I have been inspired by him, by the roles he has played.
Right now, I am covering an English 11 class; the teacher is administering a state exam and the students in his class just took the exam the other day. As a reward, the students are having a quiet moment, a time in which to sit back, relax, and watch (ignore) a movie.
The teacher, by the way, is amazing. Please do not read this and think that I am criticizing him for turning on a movie; I have done and will continue to do the same thing. We spend months and weeks preparing our students, working them hard. It’s nice to give the students a moment to stop and just….experience something beautiful and artistic.
Like the movie Dead Poet’s Society, which still ranks as one of my all-time favorite movies.
It’s about literature and literary analysis. It moves from critical thinking to young men rebelling against a conformist society to artistry and beauty. In some respects, my most creative teaching moments are inspired by John Keating, the role played by Robin Williams.
As the world mourns the loss of David Bowie and Alan Rickman, I keep on thinking about Robin Williams. Some of my colleagues are truly mourning the loss of these great artists, and my empathy stems from my memory of the moment when I learned about Mr. Williams’ suicide.
Such a beautiful man. Such a tragic loss.
Right now, in the movie, Robert Sean Leonard’s character, Neal, is reading about the mathematical equation for understanding and appreciating poetry. William’s character, Mr. Keating, has just drawn a graph to show how to calculate and appreciate poetry before turning to the class and saying, “‘Excrement.'”
Frequently, I will talk about how I “can’t dance” to something literary. This is one of my favorite Williams’ quotes.
Mr. Keating, Mr. Williams…they inspired me to see that my whack-a-mole-pedagogical choices aren’t so…stupid. So out of place. Because no matter how I tell myself that I don’t care what other people think, when I find myself sitting on the edge of society and see that I just don’t fit….it’s hard.
It’s so hard because I do want to fit but I don’t. I’m the triangle peg trying to conform to the square and circle holes.
And Robin Williams, Mr. Keating, all of the various roles that Mr. Williams played…they were my fellow triangles. When I was growing up, I was constantly called “weird.” As an adult/teacher, I am called “crazy.” And I will sometimes hunch in shame when I hear those words coming at me and then…I see a picture of Mr. Williams.
I look in my school-desk drawer and see my copy of Dead Poet’s Society and I see that my triangularity isn’t such a big deal.
Isn’t such an anomaly.
And, for a moment, I fit.
Dead Poet’s Society spawned a celebrity-crush I had on Robert Sean Leonard…or, rather, his character Neal. I hated the ending, (SPOILER ALERT) hated when he committed suicide. Hated his parents because they trapped him into a box that destroyed him. I loved how Todd (Ethan Hawke’s character) stood on his desk and challenged the destructive society, the administrator who liked poetry graphs and relished the moment when he was able to fire Mr. Keating for encouraging students to think for themselves.
I still miss Robin Williams. Seeing him on the screen, hearing his voice reminds me that he died by his own hand. That for every laugh he gave to the world, he hid another fabric of pain from the world.
One of my favorite scenes is happening right now, the first time the boys ran to the Indian cave. Neal is holding the book that was the tome of the Dead Poets and the music has dropped into its low, reflective tones. I love this scene as the boys run through the misty woods, single file, running to the cave, running to their future, running away from a world of angular definitions and expectations that do not coincide with their dreams and aspirations.
In my heart, I am running with them, running beside them. Wait for me, let me join you, let me be a member….
I still miss Robin Williams, still miss the Captain…even now, as I laugh at the jokes he is telling in this movie, I mourn just a little.