We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.
Seize the day. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day going to stop breathing, turn cold and die.
Those iconic lines from John Keating, played by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society, became all the more poignant following news of his apparent suicide earlier today. In the film, he gave this speech after the suicide of one of his students. It gave me chills when I watched this clip again. The first post I read this morning on Facebook was from a former colleague which read, “Patch Adams is too young to pass on.” I didn’t get it at first but when I scrolled down on another post, the words caught my attention. “Breaking: Robin Williams has passed away.” I had to do a double take.
As much as it fills with me with sadness because yet another famous personality has gone, his death fills me with a deep sense of regret and sorrow, of panghihinayang. I thought to myself, this death could have been avoided. His life did not have to end this way. He did not have to kill himself, if only for those things he said before: poetry, beauty, romance, love. Weren’t those enough to stay alive for? A person so full of love has so much to live for, right?
But who am I kidding? I do not know the man. We know him as the funny Mrs. Doubtfire, as the compassionate doctor Patch Adams, as the manic comedian whose heart is filled with so much laughter he has to shower the world with it. He made us roll with laughter over his comedic antics, made us cry as he recited Pablo Neruda’s poem. He had about him a very calm and optimistic demeanor, because he was always laughing. We assumed people who make other people laugh are always happy. He was a one-of-a-kind talent, a genius, known throughout his community as a gentle a sweet person. Yet we know now that the facade does not hold. He battled depression for years, went into rehab for alcohol and drug addition, got divorced, became sober, remarried, and slowly faded into oblivion. Whatever we think we know about him, or of the lines he has said before, don’t hold water to who he was inside, to whatever personal pain he was going through. Because that’s all that matters, really. Who you are inside.
Carpe diem, he said. Seize the day. And he made great use of his talent, making so many people all over the world happy. He shared his humor, inspired hope. Yet for all the happiness he gave the world, the great tragedy is that he himself was unhappy, left without hope.
Farewell, Oh Captain! My Captain!