A friend posted this on Facebook the day Robin Williams died:
I don’t struggle with depression.
Not yet anyway.
I might someday.
My father did. Robin Williams did. I’m sure a lot of people you know do too, or have.
But I have seen it close up, and I have seen the way it comes in like waves, and I have seen it batter and break.
Last Monday night I drove home from Portland where I had a great visit with my sons Gabe and Nathaniel, and their families over the weekend. Kathy couldn’t go because of work. When I walked in the door one of the first things she said to me was,
“You heard that Robin Williams died didn’t you?”
Wow. No. I hadn’t. It was a shock. I heard that he struggled with depression (as well as alcohol and cocaine addiction). But even so, it caught me off guard.
The Great Clown Pagliacci
Also on the day Robin Williams died, someone on Reddit shared a page from the Watchmen comic that had this dialogue:
Man goes to doctor. Says he’s depressed. Says life seems harsh and cruel. Says he feels all alone in a threatening world where what lies ahead is vague and uncertain. Doctor says,
“Treatment is simple. Great clown Pagliacci is in town tonight. Go and see him. That should pick you up.”
Man bursts into tears. Says,
“But doctor… I am Pagliacci.”
Pagliacci: that was Robin Williams. A guy who made others laugh but who himself wrestled with depression.
It’s Inevitable: You Too Will Experience The Waves That Batter And Break
Every one of us will at some time or another experience the “waves” that “batter and break.” A seemingly overwhelming storm of deep pain that rolls through our heart. So what do we know about it? When we watch doctors on TV or see books on Amazon or read about it on the internet we see one person talk about the psychology of it, and another talks about the physical part of it, and another talks about the emotional part of it, and another talks about the spiritual part of it. So the Bible, it speaks to the spiritual part, doesn’t it? Or does it? We’ll look at that question in a future post. Maybe next week. But for now, what about the actual act of committing suicide? What about that?
There were times when Robin Williams made me laugh so hard my ribs ached. And he also had a way of coming across as a kind and gentle person. He was such a lovable character to me that his death really did have a disturbing effect on me. It was heartbreaking. But the way he died. Suicide. I have to be honest, that was tragic.
How Lies Can Lead To Suicide Contagion
It was tragic because of the nature of the act. When we’re depressed our perspective distorts, and we hear things. Maybe we hear them from other people. Maybe we hear them as thoughts in our own heads. But we hear them. Job heard such a thing from his wife. At his low point she famously said to him, “Curse God and die!” She effectively told him to quit. You might hear it expressed other ways, “Just give it up, just stay home and watch TV,” or, “Just stay home and play video games,” or, “Just stay home and get drunk,” or, and this is one of the most insidious, “You have become a burden to the very people you love the most, they are better off without you. Do it. Kill yourself.” (Job 2:9)
They’re all lies of course. Doing any of these will make things worse, not better. Take the last one, killing yourself. Are you aware of the horrific copy cat effect suicide has on others? I was first exposed to it when there was a cluster of suicides in the Phoenix, Arizona Fire Department. One after another they fell. As I read and heard about each death I was mortified. I didn’t understand it.
Later I learned from Gladwell’s book Tipping Point that this is a well documented phenomena. Gladwell cites an example of it in a South Sea island community with no history of suicide whatsoever. Then one day a popular young man lost his girlfriend and subsequently hung himself with a belt by leaning away from its anchor point. A strange way to end it. And a strange thing happened next. Suddenly, in this community with no history of people taking their own lives, there was an outbreak of suicides by others on the island. Most were slightly younger than the original young man. And they did it by the same method.
Scientists call it contagion. A woman wrote a book about it, this contagious aspect of suicide. In her book she explains why it’s so important to stay alive. Committing suicide well might influence others to commit suicide: family members, fellow students, coworkers, others in your community. But the opposite is also true, she says. Staying alive however difficult your circumstances may be, will influence others to stay alive too. “Your staying alive means so much more than you really know,” she says. (Hecht)
You, Job, And Your Opportunity For Greatness
Just think for a minute about what that lady said in her book. That’s Job. Because Job never followed his wife’s admonition. And since he didn’t, since he chose to keep his trust in God and to stay alive with tenacity and determination, for thousands of years he’s been a great inspiration to others in pain, suffering, and anguish.
Job is one of the greatest people in history precisely because he didn’t buy into the lie. He didn’t curse God and die, instead he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)
And he even went a step beyond that when he said of God, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him…” (Job 13:15)
So do what Job did. Though he didn’t know it at the time, it was at his darkest moment that Job had his opportunity for greatness. You do too! Continue on in God. Even if he slays you, maintain your trust in Him.
Malcolm Gladwell, Tipping Point, Little, Brown and Company, 2006
Jennifer Michael Hecht, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, Yale University Press, 2013
Katelyn Beaty, Staying Alive in a Suicidal World, Christianity Today, 8/12/14
Tim Keller, Podcasts Page (Go to podcast #30, The Wounded Spirit)
[Image via Charles Haynes - Creative Commons]