O, Captain, Our Captain!

Why did I just cry over a Robin Williams quote someone reblogged on Tumblr? Why does my stomach feel sick, the way it does after you’ve finished a particularly gut-wrenching movie? Important actors, writers and celebrities die every year. Most of them hurt, but some really pack a punch. Maya Angelou, Heath Ledger, Nelson Mandela: I just came to assume they would always be a part of my life, even in the most distant, far out of ways.

My entire Twitter and Facebook is one big outcry of grief right now — posting favorite movie clips, recalling seeing Aladdin in theaters, urging friends with depression to seek help. All my friends are figuring their own ways to grieve and cope. For some, it’s The Birdcage or Mrs. Doubtfire. For me, it’ll probably be crying over Good Will Hunting.

Why did this man mean so much to everyone in my generation?

Because he touched every single one of us.

He was our introduction to belly-laughing comedy, delivered via a blue genie. He was a poetry professor, trying to pull carpe diem out of boarding school students. He was a goofy, ridiculous father who loved his children enough to become their nanny. He was a wise psychologist, reminding us it isn’t our fault.

He saturated our young lives when all we wanted to do was giggle and guffaw and go on adventures. Hook, Jumanji, Flubber, Aladdin and Mrs. Doubtfire had us in stitches on our living room floors, eager to rewind our VHSs and watch him work his magic again.

When we got older, we found he had a knack for delivering the wisest of life advice. We trusted him, for he was the one who made us laugh when we were young. We listened to Professor Keating and Sean Maguire guide young lost souls like ours into something like self discovery.

Something about him was just so approachable and friendly and warm. If I had come across him in the cereal aisle of my grocery store, I wouldn’t have thought twice about hugging him and saying thank you. My dad loved him, and would have our whole family howling with laughter and singing “ooooooooh fiwah” on road trips.

But mental illness works in terrifying, mysterious ways. As my friend Pat put it on Twitter earlier, “Depression doesn’t just cheat; it fights dirty. Digs a foxhole, bunkers down and fires away at your happiness for years and years.” And he’s so right. It wiggles its way into your cracks and crevices so you can’t reach it even if you try. It sits and it waits. And then it strikes, and the world loses one of its best storytellers.

I feel really conflicted about this blog post and the huge amount of emotion pouring out of me right now. There are so many more important things happening in the world right now that deserve equal (or greater) attention to an actor’s passing: ISIS, Michael Brown, the riots in Ferguson, Mo., Russian-Ukraine relations, the Ebola outbreak and so on.

But right now, in this moment, my heart is aching for a very integral part of my cinematic upbringing. Someone wrenched from the world by a demon I myself am fighting.

I don’t have any good way to sign this off, because anything I write sounds trite and like I’m making a huge hairy deal over an actor’s death. I guess this is as good a space as any to encourage anyone struggling with depression to reach out and ask for help. It’s one of the scariest, bravest and best things you can do for yourself.

We’ll miss you, Robin. Thank you for teaching us to seize the day.

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