What Robin Williams and Adolf Hitler have in Common
by Benjamin Scott Campbell
Please don’t hate me. Give me a chance, O hasty reader.
It goes without saying, for the perceptive reader, the nature of my writing today. I’m not the first to say something, certainly not the last, and my perspective is no more profound or interesting than a pile of dirt, which buries and is buried by all. The man Robin Williams, of whom I and most everyone know little, in reaching for and taking hold of death, grasped not for death, but for life. This then is the greatest tragedy of all, and while any death ought to shake us, it is only when it is a sizable death that we get a sense of the mortality of all.
There is something morbidly ironic in the suicide of a man who made his living by humor. It was his livelihood, his vehicle for nearly everything he did in the public eye. Yet we see in this, the culmination of a life, a deep-seeded need left unmet by his marriages, children, and professional success. Hold on. This isn’t another hammering of a tired trope, you understand; of course he had all these things and “something was lacking.” Anyone with sense may see that, but that is not why he ended his own life.
Laughter shares a complex catharsis with several other human phenomena, each one distinct. Laughter, sexual intimacy, birth, and notably death are some of the most confounding experiences of the human existence. They each express something undefinable about people, something beyond empirical data or observable theorems. Certainly, we may achieve a level of understanding regarding the science or mathematics of the expression, but the origin is as unfathomable as the origin of life itself. Anyone who lingers too long in the realm of any one of these may find it maddeningly complex, and complex in such a way that complexity isn’t at all what we should call it. It is… other.
Otherness is not necessarily fearful, but it is wantonly dreadful. C.S. Lewis explores this in his book The Problem with Pain, a title I highly recommend to any who seek a kind of comprehensive solace in the face of death. It is this otherness which has driven every war, every conflict, and every misunderstanding. It caused Adolf Hitler to believe in eugenics and the extermination of human life, for what he thought was the greater good of humanity. Conversely, it is this same otherness which unites humanity: it caused Egyptian Christians to form a human barrier around Muslims performing salat, their daily prayers; it caused Martin Luther King Jr. to dream a dream; it caused France to offer asylum to fleeing Iraqis, it caused the hearts of millions to churn with dismay as they discovered Robin McLaurin Williams had hung himself to death.
While I’m sure most people do not take kindly to my categorization of Hitler with the late Mr. Williams, I beg you hear me out. Robin Williams, in committing suicide, did not reach for death. Indeed, no one, even the most bent and evil of people such as Hitler, do not desire ill. They desire the otherness, the impossibly inexplicable “What is it?” of life. You see, laughter, intimacy, and even birth do not make a life. Conversely, death does not absolutely end a life. What makes and ends a life is that which is beyond our comprehension to grasp as mere people. What Mr. Williams reached for was that strange unknown, the “peace which surpasses understanding.” Hitler did not ultimately desire war since it was all a twisted means to an end. His ideology, however wicked and hell-inspired, was meant to bring peace. This is the sadistic power of death.
Death is a sinister foe. It prides itself on the slow decay of a pretty face, one which desperately piles on makeup and do-ups in order to preserve what is so fiendishly reeled away. Death thrives on the steady dismantling of a lovely mind, one such as Robin Williams had, until it believes the only option is, as he himself put it, “a permanent solution to temporary problems.” That being said, one might adequately place Hitler and Robin Williams in the ranks of the leaders of ISIS or Bob Dylan. But we don’t need to name-drop here: let’s be honest. I fit in with all these names, and we all have one name.
“Oh, the humanity!” Indeed, how we all cleave to life in the most confused ways. One might easily take this to a logical end and say eating alone is cause for shaking our heads at the futility of all we do to preserve our fleeting lives. Logic, however, is not the answer, just as death is not the answer. We deceive ourselves if we think we may outsmart death, but we do our loved ones and assuredly our own selves a cataclysmic disservice to plunge headlong into death as though it is our only salvation. What a confused, tragic people we are, and I am among the worst offenders.
What then can we do? We aren’t strong enough to beat death, and to embrace it is the final futility. Hope is the only thing worth living for in the face of death, of which all our ends are certain to drink deeply. Love, we must understand, is never far from us, and this is true hope. If we can take Mr. Williams’ sudden departure from this world as an example, we must remember that happiness, beauty, and even laughter cannot cure the ravishing otherness which either ruins or restores our souls. When we lose faith in ourselves, we must never lose faith in what is true. When we lose hope in the world, we must remember always to hope for what is beyond it. When we lose the love of all, and when we fail to love ourselves, I pray you may find, O reader, the power of the unfailing love which comes from the Origin of humanity, the Origin of all. You know His Name, and rest – aye, rest – assured that He knows yours.
Even the darkness cannot tell you your name, but He holds you. Let that be your hope, for all else is suicide.
Benjamin Scott Campbell – BenjaminSCampbell@outlook.com