The Nobility of Suffering: Is it Cowardice to Take One’s Own Life?


In the wake of the tragic loss of Robin Williams by his own hand, we are left speechless and traumatized. And forever picking up the pieces, as is often the case with unfathomable suicide. It goes without saying that all but a tiny fraction of us will never know what’s beyond that door of despair. Most of us will never take our own lives, and the very thought tastes profane in our very mouths. Most of us will never need nobility of mind against the unjust scales of human suffering. We will all endure the scrapes and bruises, trials and tragedies of a life long-lived, but for most of us, our little lives are hardly stuff which dreams are made on. Or as the case may be, nightmares. If fortune favors the bold, we are most just fortunate to ‘scape through life without the task of courting death. For those who fear the reaper, their lives are precious gems, and may in fact be the only precious thing they inherit, and will only ever be so bold, as to not give up their fortune. This precious majority would never entertain the thought of self-slaughter, and could never fathom fortunes turning to a place of that most desperate measure. It is in this plane of existence that most of us will never visit, and most certainly never live.

There’s people out there hurting now, not because they’re desperate, but because they’ve lost something precious that they always thought they knew: Robin Williams. If he was crazy-funny, he was still that favorite uncle with the silly jokes and cock-eyed impressions that left us laughing, sometimes crying, sometimes crying-laughing. He was familiar in the best possible way, and though he was a movie star, he was also one of us. There’s a lot of people out there hurting now, and now they’re desperate for a cause. People want their answers neat, and only when the unthinkable happens, do we truly know how deaf the world is to our calls. We are desperate now and hurting, for the uncle that we knew, and the filmtrack of our lives is turning, but the answers aren’t. Only questions burning. How could someone that we thought we knew, do something so utterly foreign and alien to our very sensibility? Suicide was what terrorist bombers did to get our attention and to take out as many lives with them as they possibly could. Was this like that? Did Robin Williams want attention and to inflict as much damage on his loved ones and the ones who loved him most from afar? The answers were frustrating dead ends, that couldn’t be found in a note, or even the actions of days gone by. The answers were forever knit up in that brain we thought we knew, now forever closed to us, and leaving us frustrated, angry, and confused. We thought we knew our Robin well, and now we’re left to pick up pieces that don’t fit together, but we have glue and time now too, and glue is made for fixing. We are now attempting to reconstruct the psyche of a man inestimably damaged. We are no longer speechless, but rather, vocal in our outrage. It seems absolutely inconceivable to us that a man with so much talent and the love, respect, and affection of his friends, family, and adoring fans, could ever throw that all away so casually, negligently…spitefully. We are vocal now, indignant, and want answers for our hearts. How could such a trusted friend, have such callous disregard for his fan base? We are vocal now, projecting, and we place ourselves in him. Williams can no longer just be his unique brand of humor and poignant charm, for now he is the hill we wage war to capture, and soldiers stream from all sides, claiming victories and denouncing underhanded treachery. We claim him for ourselves, and Robin doesn’t live here anymore. Of all impassioned pleas and careful trickeries, we cannot help but keep asking whether Robin Williams was a selfish coward or a courageous victim, unable to stop his own hand against himself. The war raged.

This is just one of many contributions people have made to the debate over Robin Williams. There have been many valid points made, but I would have to assert that we have no right to judge whether someone is brave or not based on whether they killed themselves or suffered 80 years of hard-living. Personally, I can’t fathom the courage it must take to jump off a precipice from which you can’t return, not knowing if anything lies beyond. Or is that cowardice? Who knows? How can we make value judgements on the inner workings of a tortured psyche we know nothing of? So it’s great that some people are SO brave that they can endure the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, but Williams is a chicken shit coward who doesn’t even have the balls to take up arms against a sea of troubles, and instead commits self-slaughter. It doesn’t work like that, and I’m sick of people who are not professionals in the mental health field making value judgements and backseat diagnoses of someone and something they know nothing about. Mental illness isn’t measured in cups and ounces, and bravery is a relative term. Was it brave for Jews to endure the inhumane treatment and annihilation at the hands of the Nazis? Of course it was. Flip that on its head though, and honestly ask yourself whether it was also insanity to face the daily extermination and torture of your people and still hold onto a thing called hope or faith. If the definition of crazy is to do the same thing over and over again, and expect different results, then what’s crazier than a people refusing to break in the face of unspeakable horror? Of course now we know their patience and courage were eventually rewarded–however bittersweet it might have been. But what happens to a dream deferred? What does that kind of trauma do to a psyche? Could we have honestly blamed them had they taken their own lives in mass waves of self-slaughter? Who are we to judge the holocaust of one’s own mind? One man’s courage is another man’s madness. I simply ask society at large, and you my readers in particular to loosen your tight grip on what your rigid definition of bravery, especially when cradled in the arms of a damaged man’s psyche. Everything is relative in the eyes of a broken soul, and who are we to accuse Robin Williams of selfish cowardice, when we know nothing of the wars that raged inside his embattled brain, and fought ferociously across his heart? Let’s leave terms like ‘brave’ and ‘weak’ for the real soldiers who pin medals and issue discharges, and show something more akin to compassion, when discussing the battles of the sick. Robin didn’t choose disease, but it chose him with a vengeance. Although he chose to take his life, his disease did that long before. Let’s use words like doctors use, find patience with our patients, and learn to finally bury our famous, without burying their memory.

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