“A long, long time ago
I can still remember how that music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they’d be happy for a while
But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died”
These haunting lyrics were penned by Don McClean 12 years following the 1959 plane crash which ended the lives of three of that day’s most popular rock stars. The news must have travelled fast even in the days before social media that Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and The Big Bopper had gone down in Clear Lake, Iowa. Don McClean’s biggest hit, “American Pie” popularized the phrase “The day the music died,” honoring the loss of such great musical talent.
Two days ago we learned of the loss of another entertainment icon. Robin Williams’ death to me has an equal sense of loss as must have been experienced in 1959 causing the phrase “The day the laughter died” to come to mind. It is unbelievable when pop culture figures unexpectedly die, but even more so when one who is so identifiable with laughter succumbs to the darkest, least humorous feelings one can experience.
If you are like me, you have this expectation that people such as Robin are just naturally the way we see them on stage. That if you went to his house unexpectedly, you would be greeted by a man-child eliciting a gut busting laugh with every action and mood lifting perception of the world around him. The notion that he would be anything less than hilarious even at home just does not fit the naturalness of his humor. However, this silencing of the laughter has revealed the truth that not only was this not his natural disposition but was the exact opposite.
It causes me to realize the unreal expectations on many who have the abilities to bring us joy. If I were to visit the home of (insert your favorite singer here), I would not expect this person to sing rather than to speak, yet I anticipate comedians to be funny, teachers to desire to unceasingly cover their subject matter, preachers to speak only in psalms and hymns, as well as others who enrich our lives to constantly be “on” without showing any of their humanity. We mistake the public persona as the person’s whole being and are disheartened when we realize they too are human, forgetting the wonderful gifts of humor, learning, or hope they have shared with us.
What we have learned from Mr. Williams’ life and the laughter he has given us is that sometimes the inner struggle of one’s own humanity can provide a catalyst for bettering others’ lives. Even from the darkness which eventually overcame him, Robin found a way to lighten the world around him. His depression did not make his antics any less funny.
What is in your humanity that can be used to benefit others? What is it that causes you to hold back from people but gives your empathy toward their struggle? Make your own music for others, add laughter and joy to someone else’s day. Don’t worry that your humanity may become visible. Music did not die on a field in Iowa and laughter did not stop at Robin Williams’ home in California.