To a candle put off (the funny guy with the sad eyes)

Dead Poets Society

Like any other morning, I woke up earlier than my alarm this morning, a little perplexed by a dream I had. I remembered it vaguely; it involved a chasing scene I suspected having a correlation with The Walking Dead I’d been watching back-to-back the day before. I checked on my Facebook timeline on my smartphone only to find shocking news: Robin Williams is dead. I prepared my coffee, black and strong.

I don’t know Robin Williams in person, but I know he had done something very important in my life. That small highlight on my life timeline was when I was still teaching at the English Language Education program at a university in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. I used “Dead Poets Society” as one of my teaching materials in my Drama class. We played the movie in our language lab several times, and I encouraged my students to rent the dvd from a local rental to further study the movie. I gave them topics they could choose from, such as character analysis, plot analysis, and symbolism, to be developed into an academic essay. It was 2001 or 2002, I don’t remember exactly; it was when the Internet was not as advanced and widely accessible as today, but it was the time when we, teachers, started to wonder why these younger generations seemed to develop impatience toward reading novels, textbooks, or any other longer materials.  I used films because films were definitely part of my students’ reality. Back to Mr. Williams, his portrayal of John Keating (easily a reference to the short-lived Brit Romantic poet John Keats) was bigger than life. Like little Todd, I was inspired. My Drama class students got inspired. They began to explore materials, both online and offline. They read. They quoted. They put down their ideas on paper. They learned from crosses and yellow marker highlights I made on their paper. They wrote essays they were proud of. I was proud of them. I learned one important thing from their initial laziness: TEACHERS SHOULD DEVELOP MATERIALS USING TOOLS THAT ARE CLOSE TO THEIR STUDENTS’ REALITY.

I went to work as I was supposed to, no longer as a teacher, of course. I threw jokes around my colleagues like I habitually do. I went to meet a travel blogger from New Zealand whom we hosted. We talked about how the Balinese lead their lives, about life twists, a book called The Journey of Souls, and Bali coffee. We didn’t talk about Robin Williams, but shortly after the meeting, I was suddenly reminded of depression, the silent killer: my own, years ago; a few family members’; a dear friend’s. We live a relatively happy life on the surface, but what goes on beneath is sometimes a wolf — conditioned, but not tamed.

Now, before you say that Robin Williams had done nothing to my life (that everything I felt was just an emotional outburst), think about the movies you remember he was in. How many of them gave you chills and touched your humanity? I think that exactly how he contributed to life: by choosing to be part of those moments when a fictional character is able to move something inside of the audiences. Through those movies, Robin Williams had made a decision after a decision to be an agent that helped us see how to be a better person. His portrayal of John Keating in DPS did that to me. 

“Please, don’t worry so much. Because in the end, none of us have very long on this Earth. Life is fleeting. And if you’re ever distressed, cast your eyes to the summer sky when the stars are strung across the velvety night. And when a shooting star streaks through the blackness, turning night into day… make a wish and think of me. Make your life spectacular. I know I did.”

Like Neil in Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams decided to leave the life he led. The funny guy with the sad eyes. I am sure that, like Neil’s, his death — and despite my own limitation in understanding such a fatal decision could have been made by someone whose existence had inspired many — will spark flames in others’ lives to carry on and contribute to life.

So I started to write again, starting with this one. I continue weighing a decision after a decision. Rest in Peace, Robin Williams. Thank you for your contribution to life.