Laughter: A flickering of light in the dark

Once more the death of a celebrity brings to the surface the needed dialogue on how to help people who struggle from the fear of living fully that characterizes many mood disorders. We have been taught to fear the dark, to push it way and try to insulate our lives from pain. We are afraid our joy will be discounted if people also see the sorrow. When a writing friend brought the article Why the Suicide of Robin Williams Matters by Seth Adam Smith to my attention, I responded like this:

“In our world of positive messages, often the person with mood disorders hears the message that what is good and positive about them will be diminished in the eyes of others if they are honest in admitting and seeking help for the part that aches. In our world, we need to look at the positivity messages we send out and make sure it is clear that they are ideals we may seek but that we understand the multi dimensional reality of life. As my own psychologist tells me when I get discouraged with my own inability to defeat the anxiety no matter how much I work to live out positivity, the goal of not being anxious may be an unrealistic one for me. I should celebrate the things I am able to do and the growth in my life without condemning that part of me that still is tied in knots and sinks below the horizon. I need to celebrate and live my life as a whole. I say this not to talk only of me, but to share what I have heard from many others as well who live in this world of balancing the darker feelings with the light we would like to reflect into the world. My heart aches for Robin and for those who hold him close.”

Though we want to see the three dimensional nature of characters in the dramas we watch, too often we seek a more two-dimensional character from those we allow in the edges of our lives and sometimes even in our inner circles. As you read above, we, or at least I, even expect this limited dimensionality from ourselves. When the person is able to laugh and show joy we discount their experiences of darkness. When a person is honest about their darkness, we stop hearing the joy. Life’s reality is that both reside in us all to varying degrees.

When my children were young my struggle with depression inhibited my ability to be all that I would have wanted to be. As I mourned this darkness within a facility to protect me from myself until I could choose to live again, I created a collage from old magazines to help me find the focus of what mattered to me in life. It was not something assigned to me. It was a need that came from within. The quote from it that I remember most in one that prayed that despite whatever else came in life, I wanted my children to remember my laughter. Your family asked that for you, Robin.

So, Robin.  I remember laughter as I think of you. I see your fumbling coming to terms with having been the boy Peter Pan. I watch you transform into Mrs. Doubtfire in the journey to overcome a distancing built in that characters life. I remember how you bumbled into our life as the alien, Mork, learning to live in this world that had different mores than the one you knew. I remember your laughter, but I let that memory also help me remember my own.

In that place I had entered to help me keep living so that I could be there for my children, it was a moment of spontaneous levity, an under-the-breath “smart answer to stupid questions” kind of comment, that showed others and myself that I was beginning to open to life again. It was in moments of levity that we found connections that went beyond the commonalities of our pain.

But moments of laughter go on. I still grin at the laughter of my family when I straightened the discard pile in a game with friends of theirs. They had told their friends about my angst at having the pile messy and so the laughter was spontaneous. I chuckle as I hear one of my young adult children express in shock, “Your my mom and mom’s don’t talk like that!” when some somewhat raunchy quip or observation flies from my mouth. As much as I want the cards to be neat, I love that there is within me that which will not conform to expectations but loves to just be.

The presence of a light does not mean there isn’t darkness. Teaching others and ourselves that we have to deny the darkness just causes it to press deeper around us. But looking at the light, no matter how small, changes the texture of the dark. Our eyes adjust to the smallest radiances and we begin to see the lines and forms that surround us. Laughter is a spark of that light. That can be enough to hold us until the sun rises again.





Why the Suicide of Robin Williams Matters by Seth Adam Smith –


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