I stayed up late last night following the hashtag and watching the Twittersphere convulse in waves of shock at Robin Williams’ sudden death. I’m not sure why I tuned in when I should have been sleeping. Perhaps it was the sense of being part of a community – coming together in confusion, anger, grief or fear that someone who was part of our world is no longer. Whatever it was, it brought back memories.
I had a friend in college who struggled emotionally. She was gifted, brilliant and successful – and yet I would often walk in and find her sitting in the same place she was when I’d left hours before. In her pajamas. Silent. Barely breathing. Looking for the light. Outside of a small circle of friends, she was always “on” – vibrant and exciting, larger than life. Even her closest friends only saw hints of what ran underneath. I think the only reason I saw it was because we lived together, frankly. I had a front row seat, and it frightened me. I didn’t know what to do or say during her dark times. At first, I used to go to my room to give her some space. But I would sit in that room wondering if everything was alright… how long would it last? She told me once that suicide ran in her family. Should I be worried? After a while, my worry drove me out of my room and to the couch, where we would sit together in silence – watching TV and occasionally holding hands. I don’t know if it helped, but what I do know is that eventually something would break the sadness, and we’d end up laughing. Life would click back into a familiar rhythm. Things would be fine… for a while. In my youth, I thought she got “better.” Now, I wonder if she did. I hope she did. Since then, we’ve lost touch, but every now and again, I think about her: how she is… if she is well… if she still struggles today.
The truth of whole Twittersphere thing is that we were probably all drawn to it last night by something more personal. If someone so gifted, so brilliant and so successful could only find solace in an ending, how many “ordinary” people – people you and I see everyday – are fighting the same battle right now? Whether it’s Robin Williams, your college roommate, a neighbor or a loved one, someone you know is struggling as you read this. How hard do they fight to win one more day? How many people are losing that battle right now?
It’s easy to take someone at face value. You say “Hi, how are you?” and get “great!” in return. And maybe that’s true. But, what if someone actually said something else?
Would you be surprised? Shocked? What would you do?
At our core, we’re often pretty perceptive people. We sense when something is off, even if we can’t put our finger on what it is. What if we paid more attention to those feelings? Made more of an effort to reach out or ask another question when something didn’t feel right?
Would it hurt? Not at all.
Would it help? I’d like to think so.
Maybe if we all reached out to hold someone’s hand, we could change a life.