I did what most do when a beloved celebrity passes away. Since I heard about Robin Williams’s passing, I’ve watched moments that encapsulate his time machine. From his early acting days, I caught a clip of one of my favorite characters, Fonzie, interacting with Mork, the beloved alien that Mr. Williams played with such intensity and authenticity. I laughed again, remembering my childhood and recalling how much I loved these two shows, Happy Days and Mork and Mindy. Watching this clip, led to opening a treasure box of other performances by Mr. Williams. His stand-up routines contain jokes that even decades later still offered many belly laughs. Sitting at my desk, I kept clicking on other memorable movie scenes, from What Dreams May Come to Dead Poet’s Society to Jumanji. I singled out these three movies because the impact of watching Mr. Williams portrayal of his characters resonated in a way that endured. Who can forget Whitman’s line, “O’Captain, My Captain” in Dead Poet’s Society? It is in this movie I discovered and associated a meaning to the words, “Carpe Diem.” In the same vain, I remember Williams portrayal of a grief stricken widower in What Dreams May Come and his playful and entertaining demeanor in Jumanji.
I never met Mr. Williams, but like his movies, his passing had a palpable effect on me. Since Monday, I’ve read tributes by those who knew him, who not only acknowledged his genius as a comedian and an actor, but also emphasized his generous soul. So many, from high-profile actors to ordinary people, conveyed how he valued kindness and the pressing need to give to others. I suspect Mr. Williams often offered tangible help to those who needed it. But I also suspect those people asked.
Asking for help is a tenuous act for most and I’ve learned that culture plays a predominant role as to how this terrain is navigated. As an Indian woman, I’ve witnessed how my own culture undermines the necessity in asking for help. Growing up, I heard, “Oh, those kind of things don’t happen to us.” Somehow, belonging to a particular culture, kept us immune from the problems that plagued others. I never really understood this philosophy and of course knew that illness, anxiety, depression and other common struggles were all equal opportunity employers for all cultures.
I still remember a conversation that happened years ago after my father learned of his cancer diagnosis. He ordered my family to not reveal this news to anyone. I thought, in retrospect, he eventually might change his mind, but he never did. Throughout his cancer battle, I pled with him to seek some kind of support, whether it meant seeking help from group therapy or telling a friend or confiding in his sisters. He refused. Asking for help never materialized as a feasible option. In the process, the people who loved him the most served as collateral damage. I’ve witnessed countless other examples of the same cycle repeating itself among family as well as friends. There is a resistance to reveal what is ailing us the most. The irony is that it is probably more of a universal pain that we realize. For him, the idea of acknowledging a private battle meant weakness.
Entering into midlife, I’ve learned that asking for help is not a weakness, but a path that needs more accolades. In the last ten years, I’ve raised my hand, extended my reach and asked for help.
Robin Williams life is just about that. That is what I am choosing to remember. Mr. Williams asked for help, too. Sometimes it isn’t enough. But let’s not forget that he asked.