Monday, September 8, 2014

Playing the Fool

This summer the world lost two special celebrities who touched many people’s lives.  The moment I heard the news of Robin Williams’ passing, I was taken aback by a wave of grief.  Then I realized it was because of my personal memories of going to see his films with my grandmother.  I remember her talking about Dead Poets Society for decades.  But when we saw Patch Adams and Awakenings together, I witnessed a part of my grandmother I almost never saw.  These films had reached into her heart and touched a vulnerability that she rarely let anyone see.  As a strong, loving, but stoic woman, the idea of showing vulnerability was out of the question.  Yet underneath the surface flowed a wealth of tenderness and sensitivity.  Just as a farmer digs for wells, Robin Williams’ characters had found a way to dig a well for her sensitivities to flow and find expression, if for just a couple of hours.
As I reflect on Robin Williams’ work, what I love most is what he was often times criticized for and that was exposing his raw side.  As a society we are conditioned from a young age to keep our inner world deep in the shadows, and Robin was willing to play the fool by exposing the full and colorful tapestry of his human experience.  Through his work, he reminded humanity that we all have seeded within the soul a childlike vulnerability that seeks creative and playful expression.  He held up a mirror, reminding the world that within the shadow self resides a goldmine just waiting to be discovered.
People who are sensitive and experience the full range of human emotion are often times judged as weak.  In reality, however, it takes great strength to be able to experience the depths to which human emotion can go, and Robin was one of those people.  Unfortunately, the extremes took him too far, too early.  This leads me to question why society doesn’t fully embrace those who have stronger sensitivities to life, and view them as leaders who shed light on how one can experience his or her emotions while remaining strong.  Perhaps if we did, this less traveled road would be a little less lonely and a little less painful for those who feel like misfits against the back drop of society.
Some of the greatest works of genius resulted from someone willing to stand out on the edge and play the fool.  Joan Rivers was another example of this.  Her whole life was spent on the edge, breaking the glass ceiling for female standup comedians, while ignoring all those who told her she had no talent.  Joan never denied her vulnerable side to the public.  Just like Robin, she held up a mirror to humanity and said it’s okay to be yourself, your whole self and nothing but your SELF!
When we deny or hide in the shadows the parts of us we fear will make us look foolish, we are missing out on the chance to be of service to others who may also be too afraid to admit their own vulnerabilities.  It becomes a missed opportunity for humanity to heal its shame just a little more and to bring out the best in ourselves.  The next time you realize you are keeping a part of your authentic side locked away from the outside world, ask whether or not someone else could actually be having a similar experience.  As Joan would say, “I succeed by saying what everyone else is thinking.”