I was shocked and saddened to hear about the passing of Robin Williams earlier this week. From Mork and Mindy in the late 70s and early 80s to his decades of filmwork and stand-up comedy, Robin Williams touched so many lives (including mine) with his strong comedic and dramatic abilities. I loved him as Mork, and so many of his movies were classics and favorites of mine, from The World According to Garp to Mrs. Doubtfire to Good Will Hunting.
I couldn’t help but feel deflated this week after hearing about his suicide and his recent struggle with depression that caused him to take his life. Truly, a bright light that illuminated the world with such positive rays has been extinguished. Having struggled with depression in the past, I felt for him, and it makes me ache to know that he was in so much pain. One of the many tributes posted to him on Facebook sums it up – Be kind to everyone, because you don’t know what kind of journey they’re going through. In the marathon called life, some people are faced with enormous challenges and struggles, and sometimes, the ones who don’t seem to be struggling are the ones having the toughest go of it. The black dog – as Winston Churchill described depression – can plague even those who seem like they have everything.
Of all his movies, the one film that made the biggest impression on me was his turn as Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society. I was 16 and a junior in high school when the movie came out, and it made such a huge impression on me. We watched it in English class – I think I even wrote a paper on it – and I really took to heart the movie and Mr. Keating’s call for his students to seize the day and to make their lives extraordinary. Maybe it was because I was 16, with my life still stretched out before me, and the fact that I truly wanted to make my life extraordinary – maybe that was why the movie resonated so strongly with me. Carpe diem was a motto I wanted to try and live each day, not just some motivation saying on a coffee cup. I could relate to the students’ struggles to achieve what they wanted, whether it was a dream career, a dream date or just to enjoy some good rock and roll music. I also was young, felt invincible (and probably a little hormonal too) and was just ready for the warm-up act called high school to end and for real life to begin.
I also was excited to see a recent commercial campaign that had a clip from the movie, where Mr. Keating is asking the students what their verse would be. Some might argue that it’s just another example of a great 80s movie being cheapened to sell something, but I really liked how they did the commercial. And how could anyone measure poetry like you would a figure from geometry? J Evans Pritchard should have been shot, or at the very least, forced to do geometry problems for the rest of his life.
I spent a lot of time this week thinking about the movie, hearing the music in my head and thinking about the movie’s classic scenes. The ending scene is my favorite movie scene of all time and one of the best scenes ever: Todd and some of the other students standing on their desk as Mr. Keating makes his final exit, and instead of saying good-bye, they salute him with Oh Captain My Captain. Not all of the students stood, but the ones who did definitely got what Mr. Keating was trying to teach them. It made me wonder if Todd became a poet, or if Knox married Chris. And whatever happened to Nuwanda? Probably sent to military school, and probably still a rabble-rouser.
In a lot of ways, I still feel like I’m working on my verse. So far, I like what I’ve written, but there are more adventures to be had, more avenues to be explored, and more poetry to taste and let drip like honey from my lips. I’m still looking for the right words, and hoping that someday, I’ll be able to write a conclusion to my verse that would make a dead poet proud.
I’d read about some folks posting to social media pictures of themselves standing on their desks. I had debated doing this, but wasn’t sure what my boss would say, or whether my desks at work and home could take the weight. I had thought about throwing a desk set from somewhere, but couldn’t get access to the roof at work. So I thought I would post my tribute here. So good-bye, Oh Captain, My Captain. You are gone too soon, and will be sorely missed.