Robin Williams, Suicide, and Faith: Why we need to stand on our desks

Robin Williams kept me company during the first six weeks of my  baby’s life.

As a brand new mother, I was constantly exhausted and frustrated that I couldn’t soothe my crying, colicky child. Nights were particularly difficult. Often, I paced endlessly in our tiny family room into the wee hours, bouncing and patting and silently begging my little one to rest.

Mrs. Doubtfire - Das stachelige KindermŠdchen

And, during those long nights, I’d pop Mrs. Doubtfire (the only movie we owned!) into our brand new VCR, and Robin Williams’ creativity and gentleness would soothe me as I tried to soothe my child. Somehow, the hilarity and tenderness in that film seemed to ease the uncertainty I felt as a new mom, and helped me to laugh at myself  even as the anvil of postpartum depression pressed heavily on my chest.

I wasn’t going to blog about his death. In truth, it’s none of my business, and I cannot imagine the grief and agony that surround these circumstances. I didn’t know Mr. Williams personally, so I can’t speculate on his state of mind. However, I read a piece today entitled “Robin Williams didn’t die from a disease, he died from his choice.” The title alone alarmed me, and the paragraphs that followed left me enraged, disappointed, and determined to provide a different perspective .

When people are diagnosed with depression, many of them–especially those who are people of faith–will experience guilt. “If I had more faith, I wouldn’t feel this way….If I prayed more effectively, I would be happy again…The Bible says “count it all joy,” but I feel miserable.” 

Therefore, to be told by a prominent Christian writer that “we can debate medication dosages and psychotherapy treatments, but, in the end, joy is the only thing that defeats depression,” creates an ominous sense of failure. The writer intimates that those who ultimately find depression unbearable possess a real weakness in judgment and character: 

“The death of Robin Williams is significant not because he was famous, but because he was human, and not just because he left this world, but particularly because he apparently chose to leave it. (Suicide is) The final refusal to see the worth in anything, or the beauty, or the reason, or the point, or the hope. The willingness to saddle your family with the pain and misery and anger that will now plague them for the rest of their lives.”

No wonder people with mental health diagnoses stay away from church.

When the Church characterizes mental illness as a weakness in the soul, something that can be prayed away if we have enough faith, we push people away. Good, funny, loving, hard-working, generous people. People like Mr. Williams.

Like my great aunt.

Like my good friend.

Like a colleague.

Like me.

We need to follow the advice Robin Williams’ character, John Keating, gave his students in Dead Poet’s Society. He challenged those boys to gain new perspective, saying, “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”

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Can you imagine saying, “If you prayed harder, your tumor would go away,” or “Your Multiple Sclerosis seems to stem from a lack of faith. You need to get into the Word.” Of course not. Mental illness is real. It’s not a sign of weakness or faulty character. We need to look at it differently… not only learn facts but to understand the loneliness, unpredictability, and exhaustion.

And, when tragedy occurs, we need to stand on our desks again, and try to understand the excruciating pain and utter desperation. It reminds me of what Firefighter Joe Casaliggi pondered as he watched people jump from the World Trade Center: “I kept thinking, ‘How bad is it up there that the better option is to jump?’”

Most of all, we need to look around our neighborhoods and our communities…and yes, within our churches so that we can try to offer encouragement and support to those who are struggling. From a different perspective, we might be able to see who needs a friend, or a lasagna or an afternoon at the movies or help cutting the grass…or just someone to sit with, in silence. And when we speak, we should do so carefully, because, as John Keating told us, “No matter what anyone tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

It’s time to take a stand.
Everyone…climb up on your desk.

PS As a rule, I do not care for “open letters,” but this one is an exception…please take the time to read this heartfelt, wise post.

Photo credits: pmcvariety;pubtheologian

It’s been a while…Here’s why.

Hi friends.

It has been a long while since I posted here.

I hadn’t anticipated taking such a long sabbatical, but after a busy work season this past spring, I needed a break. More than that, I needed some quiet.

The truth is, it’s getting awfully loud around here. And when I say, “around here,” I mean the worldwide web.

It makes me weary.

It’s like a traffic jam in hot weather…horns are honking and drivers are jockeying for position.

I’m weary of the competition and one upsmanship.
I’m weary of the bullying.
I’m tired of the barrage of promotions.
I’m sick of the rat-race that has overtaken the information super-highway.
(It requires too much merging. And anyone who knows me knows that highway merging makes me very, very nervous.)

Make no mistake…I love the internet! The convenience alone makes life so much better…I tried to explain to my kids how I used to do research. You remember…Reference books. Journals. Microfiche. (They stared blankly, as though I was recounting life in another millennium. Which, of course, it was.)

Because of Facebook, I’m in touch with “old friends” more often; those friendships aren’t punctuated only by Christmas cards and reunions. We’re all a little more connected. I love seeing vacation photos and celebrating birthdays, new jobs, graduations, touchdowns and lead roles.

I worry, though, that by being so connected, we’re getting a little disconnected. Our memories and experiences are boxed into pithy hashtags while our touch screens have gotten us decidedly out of touch with each other. Life has become a caricature of itself as we clamor for attention and laughs and time on the virtual soapbox.

My wise grandfather, for whom my son is named, greatly appreciated architecture, science and technology. If he were here, Papa Bill would likely marvel at the speed and efficiency of the internet, and he’d love the richness of the information. But he’d also urge moderation. And, most certainly, he’d invoke one of his favorite quotes from Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.” A gentleman, my grandfather always maintained his integrity and stood firm in his beliefs, without humiliating or belittling others…without having to have the last word.

Those are good standards for merging into the worldwide web.mitziecar

I’m searching, I think, not for an internet super-highway, but rather, a virtual Route 66. Slower. Kinder. Friendlier.
Quieter.

And I want my vehicle here (my blog!) to be like my minivan…In real life, I drive a dented, 10 year-old minivan, with fraying upholstery, and a CD player that works…sometimes. But it’s comfortable and reliable, and it holds lots of people. It gets us safely from A to B.

I still have research to do, stories to tell and articles to write. As I do, I want to respect the other “drivers,” even though some might pass me by or even bump into me from time to time. I know I’ll make some mistakes, too. I might cut someone off or slow somebody down. If I do, I’ll try to apologize…or at least wave politely.  No one’s perfect…least of all, me. I’ll be prepared, though, and I will choose my route carefully and be sure my mind and heart are headed in the right direction.

It’s pretty unrealistic to think that the whole internet can suddenly become a safer, smoother, more genteel place. But I can certainly make THIS part of the internet better. I hope you’ll come with me…Hop in. Buckle your safety belt. Roll down the windows.

And don’t worry…if the CD player isn’t working…

We’ll sing.

 

 

You are So Much More Than Just a Score

This is a letter to every student who has taken a standardized test, from a teacher (and a mom), who wants you to know the truth.

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Dear Students,

Much has been made about the state of our educational system these days…and the news hasn’t been good. We’re not keeping up with other countries. We’re lagging in our adoption of technology, and we haven’t mastered the math and science concepts necessary to win the nauseating, never-ending Race To Nowhere.

To solve this, policy-makers have decided that testing is necessary to monitor not only your progress, but that of your teachers and administrators, too.

They are partly right.

If you graduate from high school, and you’re not able to read, write, and understand math concepts capably, then we have utterly failed you. You deserve to go to school in a safe place where you can grow and learn. Schools need to be accountable, so that when you cross the stage in cap and gown, the diploma you grasp really, truly means something. It should be a symbol that you have met the standards set for you, and a testimony to the dedication of your teachers (and parents!) who guided you through the process.

So, kids…testing IS necessary. However, just like your grandma says, you CAN have too much of a good thing. We have descended to a place where testing is everything. And sadly, it seems we may be headed to an abyss where testing is the ONLY thing. Many of you are beginning to wonder if your test scores are the most important information about you. And,students, if you believe that, we’ve failed you again.

Who you are, and who you will become, cannot be captured in scaled scores or percentiles…

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You are creative, and funny, and insightful.

You’re an actor. A lacrosse player. An artist. An entrepreneur.

When you’re faced with a tough assignment, you persist, even when it feels like you’ll never finish.

And when you saw the child  alone on the swings, you invited her to play foursquare with you and your friends. No one ever asked her to play before that moment. Did you know that?

A test can’t measure sensitivity.
Or determination
Or grace.

No test can quantify the richness of your soul or the lyrical melody of your contagious giggles. No standardized measure can predict your ability to find joy in the midst of pain, or your willingness to show love to those who seem unlovable.

And even though we’ve armed you with No. 2 pencils, and calculators and response books, the tools you’ll really need to succeed are within you…

Leadership
Wisdom
Kindness
Faith

So take heart, students…and take courage. You DO have what it takes. Sit up straight. Keep your eyes on your own paper. Do your best job. Check your work.
And then remember this most important truth:
You are so much more than just a score.