Mourning the death of Robin Williams

I stare at my computer screen trying to process this information and how I feel about it. It felt like I just lost a distant old friend – but then again, since this year started, I have coped with 6 deaths of my actual real life friends. Six people I have laughed with, chugged beers and exchanged hugs and rants with. People who have actually affected my life one way or another. Six – and it’s only August.

2014 has been the most tumultuous year I have ever experienced. So much death and disaster. Planes going missing, planes getting shot down. Wars in the Middle East and Europe. Gaza, oh my Lord, Gaza. The ISIS beheading children and putting up photos on Twitter. The extent of sickening corruption in the Philippines, Ebola and MERS outbreaks, people eating their parents, floods and cyclones and methane emissions from global warming, and finally, my own personal upheaval.

I remember a time in June when my news feed featured an unprecedented amount of breakups and marriage fallouts. Everywhere, everyone is suffering and the fact that all these tragedies get shared in real time magnifies our torment.

So I read a friend’s post about how the media glorifies the life of one sad miserable actor and how the whole world mourns him and say things like how they were inspired by him when they have never even met him in person – while all these things in Gaza are happening, complete with a macabre photo of a bloodied child.

I completely understand the sentiment. I couldn’t sleep the night I read about the Islamist State beheading people and putting their heads on a stake to intimidate people Iraq. Convert or die.

This hits close to home, as I have been living for the past year in Saudi Arabia. I wrote about the depth of loneliness that expats experience here, postulating on what it must be like for the locals. My sister-in-law (who also lives in Saudi), upon reading it told me that frankly, she can’t feel an emotional connection to the locals. They just feel so removed from the world and completely lost in their own.

These wars being waged do feel removed from us. It’s a distant thing happening at some distant part of the world, to nations most of us do not have emotional ties to. We shake our heads and cluck in sympathy and post links to our Facebook statuses then move on to the news article about the lack of Chicken Joy.

Such is human nature. But there are moments of brilliance in our collective story where we are touched by the raw, life-changing beauty of creative artistry. We are moved by something so intangible that we can only interpret as a rare glimpse of divinity.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the highly successful novel Eat, Pray Love, did a TED talk on “Your Elusive Creative Genius," sharing the idea that instead of “being” a genius, we all “have” a genius. It was a brilliant take on the impossible expectations we have of artists and why they’re most prone to dying at their own hands.

Robin Williams shared his genius with the world. People connect to him because at one point there was this child going through a painful divorce and watching Mrs. Doubtfire gave her hope. The friend who gave me reason to write this piece had carpe diem tattooed on her because her perception of life was changed by Dead Poets’ Society. These rare glimpses we have to divinity is what helps keep us on track to fulfilling our purpose – despite of and because of all the tragedies happening around us.

Yes, media does thrive on sensationalism most of the time, but we can also consider that dehumanizing individuals into a collective description such as “casualties” would help our psyche cope with it, much like doctors who distance themselves emotionally from their patients.

This does not justify the evil happening in the world, or debase the grief we feel for them but criticizing people for celebrating the life of someone whose work touched them is also denying the magic of those infrequent glimpses into the divine and the inexplicable beauty of the inspired human spirit.

Here’s an idea. Speak blessings. I know it’s a lot easier to rant and judge people because negative thoughts easily dominate our minds. But it’s never too late to start this practice. These “glorified celebrities” are revered for the blessings and hope they brought to people’s lives through their body of work and that is actually what we are mourning when we mourn their loss.

Remembering Robin Williams’ life as news of his death breaks, though heartbreaking for many, is that one moment we can take away from the madness that is happening around the world which seems to have no hope of resolving anytime soon. It's also a reminder for us to spark the magical kind of madness that people like him brought to our despairing world.  –

Sweet Caneos is a professional flow artist and pole dancer, founding the first hula hoop community in the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, where she is currently located. She footnote fancies herself an “author,” though the only literary work she has done before were 1,500-word-minimum spiteful letters to ex-boyfriends.