The immediate sentiment in the social media world was one of collective sadness and loss, followed by expressions of thanks and gratitude for that funny moment in that funny movie (of which there were, frankly, too many to count), followed by this question for which there is no good answer:
How could someone who made us laugh so much be full of so much pain?
That right there, my friends, is the question.
I've heard it said that the best comedians are often the ones battling depression and deep-seeded angst the most; their quick wit and humor a defense mechanism to mask the pain inside. Maybe there's some truth in that, but of course it's a rash over-generalization that runs the risk of sidetracking us from seeing the full complexity of things....
That being said, people are complicated. And you don’t need the suicide of one of the greatest actors and comedians of our generation to tell you this. People are complicated, and part of the rub of human interaction in any context is how much of what we see on the outside truly reflects what lies on the inside.
No one needs to know everything about a person. Being authentic as a human being does not mean we have to share every thought that runs through our head; every feeling that finds a place in our hearts. Still, we have become incredibly and frighteningly skilled at masking who we are inside, particularly when it involves deep pain. We've convinced ourselves that to share that kind of pain would not be acceptable, or would be too much of a burden for others to bear, or would run contrary to the totally unrealistic expectation we have of ourselves and others that we are supposed to have it all together, have it all figured out. We're afraid, so we keep it inside.
This is how people like Robin Williams, a comedic genius, can take his life - and no one sees it coming. This is how Seung-Hui Cho or Adam Lanza can take the lives of Virginia Tech college students or Sandy Hook Elementary kids - and no one sees it coming. Deep, deep pain that goes unrevealed. We only see what people let us see and what we enable them to share.
People are complicated, because being made in the image of God is complicated. God's very image encased in frail human bodies - when you have that figured out, let me know. The rock band Switchfoot has a great lyric in the chorus of one of their songs that gets at this as best as anything: We were meant to live for so much more // Have we lost ourselves? // Somewhere we live inside. I imagine there will always be that tension we have to wrestle with, figure out. The trick is knowing when it grows too great for us to handle by ourselves. There's no thermometer we can use to measure a fever in our soul - which is why that same God created us not to live in isolation but in community. We need each other to help us figure out the journey that each day brings.
It's hard for me to speak about suicide because, while I've certainly had my low points, I've never found myself at "that point." I know people in my life who have, and moreover, I know there are other people around me that I don't know have. So I try my best to adhere to that wonderful wisdom that found its way to my Facebook feed a few months ago: Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind, always. And taking it a step further, too. I've tried to be more aware, more intuitive, more cognizant of cues. If my instinct has been to think that it's none of my business, I've tried to tell myself that perhaps it is. Reaching out to those around me who can’t seem to do anything more than reach in. In a world marked by partisanship, divisiveness, conflict and chaos, doing my best to live out unity, peace and compassion.
And I've tried as best I can to communicate, in word and in action, what a fellow pastor friend of mine put into words so well last night in a simple tweet: