We all recently learned of the very unfortunate news of Robin Williams’ passing. Television, in particular, was filled with stories of his life and accomplishments. They were many and varied. Mork, Mrs. Doubtfire, Peter Pan, the unorthodox John Keating in Dead Poet’s Society and who could forget the brazen DJ that woke the troops with Good Morning Vietnam! And that just scratches the surface. His accomplishments were vast.
I just heard it said, “There was no one quicker from his head to his mouth than Robin Williams.” He was a comic genius. I loved his work. It was laugh out loud funny. It was cutting edge. No one could find humor in everything like he did. And then to watch the spin he put on it was typically something none of us saw coming. You just couldn’t know what would happen next.
Classical educators have, from time to time, noted that his role as John Keating was a model for excellence as a teacher. At Veritas Press we think the best teachers—in school or at home—are those that love the material and love the students. They’ll do nearly anything to assist the student in his learning.
I still remember a former gymnast who taught at The Geneva School in Orlando, our first venture into classical Christian education. He made it happen just like Keating—maybe better. To make a particular point one day he was found walking across the desk tops—much to the student’s surprise. In another example, one of his young, athletically-minded students came home and asked his mother to purchase Pachelbel’s Canon in D, “because his teacher played it when they read at school and he wanted to do that at home.” Developing such a breadth of appreciation in our young people for all that is good takes extraordinary talent and creativity. He was a great teacher.
Robin Williams was an extraordinary talent and will be sorely missed. Of course, his work lives on. But he won’t. He’s gone. I called it “passing” earlier. Passing is more polite. Mr. Williams would not be so polite. He might call it “kicked the bucket”, “pushing up daisies”, “bought the farm“, “past his sell-by date”, “done dancing”, or “tending towards a state of chemical equilibrium.” Whatever it might be he’s dead.
And that fact contrasted with the news reporters—Fox, CBS, MSNBC, it didn’t matter—all had this joyous tone that celebrated his life. It spent precious little time lamenting his early death. That would make sense if he was 90, just not at 63.
Frankly, his end was tragic. I don’t know the state of Robin William’s soul and I’ll not speculate. What I do know is that all reports indicated that he committed suicide. Why? It didn’t seem he was caught up in materialism. While he struggled with substance abuse, it seemed he had gotten it under control. He seemed to know that life is precious. There were no public indications of this level of trouble. By all accounts he was not a troubled man with suicidal tendencies.
There are two lessons I’ve learned—maybe relearned—from these events.
The first is that few are comfortable talking about the difficult things surrounding our death. Robin Williams made people laugh. He made them think, too. But what should we think now? The reporters chose to not think, just to celebrate. The joy and celebration seemed way out of balance with the circumstances. Are we really going to act like life never ends and when it does pretend it didn’t? I cannot understand how a lost generation can live with so little concern about what is in store for eternity and that it is now that preparations should be made.
The second is that classical Christian education gives us the tools to address these kinds of things. I love the fact that a mastery of logic and rhetoric combined with the truth of God’s Word gives us real answers to tough questions. And it gives students the ability to address this dying world with hope. A new school year is about to begin. Our children will soon be deeply immersed in Latin, logic, rhetoric and many more endeavors. They’re doing it so they can live and engage with those around them about life that is good today, good tomorrow and good for all eternity.
By Marlin Detweiler
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