I can’t seem to put into eloquent words how I feel about the death of Robin Williams. It might be because I didn’t know him personally. It might be because his energy was louder than life. It might be because, during the years he truly affected me, I was just learning what words meant and the various ways to use them: how they could make others laugh, like his did through the illustrated body of Genie in “Aladdin.” How they could tell a story, like his lines and their corresponding inflections did in “Jumanji.”
Words, I learned, could help you cope, just as his in “Mrs. Doubtfire” helped me deal at a very young age with my own parents’ divorce and a new life in San Francisco. I’m sure on some subconscious level I saw myself in his daughters, and pictured Robin Williams as my anything-for-his-kid dad.
I certainly saw him as something magical in “Hook.” Even at age 26 I find it impossible to not tear up at the scene where Pockets, one the Lost Boys, puts his hands on the grown man’s face and realizes it’s Peter Pan. (“There you are, Peter!”)
And I saw him as a teacher in “Dead Poets Society” where, to come full circle, he awakened my love of words.
Typically an author is credited for doing this: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Kerouac, Salinger — all those greats you read while still under the watchful eye of school and a homework deadline. Then, in a rare moment of escaping adolescent stupor, you pause to actually read rather than skim the page and realize, “Holy crap. This is amazing.”
I’ve had those moments. I hope I never stop having those moments. But when Robin Williams crouched down to a room full of boys (and me at age 12 if my memory is correct) to explain — with the help of Walt Whitman — why it is that we read and write poetry, my understanding of the beauty of words finally clicked.
Words don’t always come quickly, especially when we need them immediately. In this case, I guess I was just lucky that I was able to rely on his.
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