Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Are You Serious?" Awards - Volume XXX: The Making Sense of the Senseless Edition

What a week it has been! 

I was wearily heading into the coffeebar with my husband on Monday night  for our Bible study, when my phone alert went off announcing the news of Robin Williams' death at the tender age of 63.  As we shared the news with our small group members, we found ourselves stunned, one couple having just seen one of Williams' movies over the weekend.  We all suspected suicide, noting the bipolar nature of his personality.

Lamenting, we tried to make sense of the senseless.

Yet, none of us foresaw the firestorm of controversy that unfurled its ugliness throughout the remainder of the week.  Everyone had an opinion.  Ire flared as Matt Walsh wrote, "Robin Williams Didn't Die From a Disease, He Died From His Choice".  Rush Limbaugh also attracted disdain by mentioning that people used to consider suicide as "the coward's way out", while now Hollywood seems to glamorize it.

 Are you SERIOUS?!

People responded to these words with predictable venom, proclaiming things to the effect that Matt Walsh is always arrogant and insensitive.  Of course, reactive social media posts intended to school these monsters spilled out aplenty.

I would like to suggest that the "winners" of this week's award are all of us.  Whether Matt Walsh or those who respond, none of us is without sin.  And we are oh-so-clumsy, foolish, almost irrational when trying to make sense of something as awful as the tragedy of suicide.  We are trying to make sense of the senseless, and there is no beautiful way to do that.  Suicide is the ultimate act of pain from every level. 

We are people in pain, bumping into others in pain, causing one another even more pain.


Throughout this week I have seen fans hurt, loved ones of those battling mental health issues saddened, doctors, professionals, and advocates discouraged, and families where this tragedy has occurred struggling from reliving the deepest pain of their own loss.   All rational discretion has flown out the window as neither law enforcement nor media have restrained themselves from describing the horrifying details.

Williams' own family has had hurt piled on top of hurt through abusive comments on social media.  And late in the week, the actor's widow revealed the secret struggle her husband fought in his early stages of Parkinson's Disease.

Of course, we would expect the issue of mental health to foment within the national conversation at a time like this.  But are we moving ourselves forward in our exchanges of dialog or hurling insults at a time like this?   Do we ever get to the fact that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America?  Do we get to the fact that depression can show up before any other symptoms of Parkinson's Disease appear, because it affects the dopamine in the brain?  Do we ever circle back to the fact that we have become way too accustomed in today's culture to making shoot-from-the-hip value judgments rather than really taking the time to understand people, their train of thought, or what they hold dearest any more?

I grew up on Robin Williams' acting.  I always enjoyed him.  I find it heartbreaking that such a remarkable life was cut short in this way.  My heart hurts for his closest family and friends who will live with this forever.

However, I'm not sure that his death has moved the conversation on mental health forward in any positive way yet.  Given what is known about his generosity, this hardly seems the outcome he would hope from his departure.

~ Barb Dittrich

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