It’s been about a half an hour since I heard the news that Robin Williams passed away today and tears are still streaming down my face. If I, who never met the man in person, am this upset I cannot fathom how devastated his family, friends, and loved ones are.
Although Robin Williams was nothing short of brilliant in so many films, the one that keeps circling around in my mind right now is Dead Poet Society. I know I have spoken of this film before as one of my favorites and Robin Williams’ performance as Mr. Keating has really resonated with me over the years but never so much as it does now – perhaps in part because the film also features the tragic suicide of a sensitive and talented actor.
In the beginning of the film, Mr. Keating tells his students that they could refer to them as “Captain, My Captain,” a reference to a Walt Whitman poem about the death of Abraham Lincoln and in the now iconic ending scene, in a loving tribute and final farewell to their departing teacher, the boys stand on their desks and call out one last time “O Captain, my captain.” The scene never fails to get to me but for all the swell of emotion as the camera sweeps over the classroom of young boys standing on their desks, the fact remains that – as loved as he was – Mr. Keating still had to go.
I know that Robin Williams was not Mr. Keating any more than he was Peter Pan or Mork or Aladdin’s genie. He was a talented man who brought such joy and laughter to others as he struggled with overwhelming sadness. (In some ways, I think the contrast of the two makes this hurt even more.) But in the face of this loss, I find myself wanting to find a desk to stand on and call out to my departing captain. I know that it will not make any change to the good-bye that must be said but in light of the many ways Robin Williams inspired me, I cannot think of any better tribute or farewell than this.