On the Suicide of a Gifted Artist

Robin Williams killed himself.

I have resisted writing about Robin Williams’ suicide.

But what I have heard from so many has spurred me to say these few words.

Robin Williams’ suicide reminds us of how fragile we are. While it is tragic that such a gifted man took himself away from us, he has left us this gift, if we will but accept it.

I have heard the many opinions about how suicide is a choice and how it was drug abuse and blah, blah, blah. People are angry at Robin for what he did. That is a normal part of grief, and if expressed healthily it can be a good thing. What is NOT healthy is to question Robin’s motivations: we can’t know that. What is also NOT healthy is to blame: choices, drugs, lifestyle, mental health. We also cannot know that. We don’t know what level of physical, emotional, spiritual pain he lived with. We don’t get to judge that. It is not our place. Some can point out rightly that Robin’s suicide is a symptom of a larger social problem, but a symptom of what? Sensitive souls feel things that most of us deny. What deadly substance in the fabric of our society did Robin die as a canary to tell us?

Behind the anger and the blaming is fear. Robin made us aware that the facade we live day-to-day is fragile, that our illusions of being OK are fragile. Robin’s tragic last act has pierced the illusion. Rather than face our fear, we use our anger to push it down, blaming one thing or another. We are afraid to feel empathy, for empathy would require us to acknowledge and own our own disordered thoughts.

WE ARE INSANE, by some definition or another. Our insanity will lead to some sort of death. We can only recover our health by admitting both our individual and corporate insanity. Robin has very rudely thrust that in our face. We can begin to look at our individual and corporate insanity and begin to heal; or we can push it back down under our denial and continue to race towards our own group suicide — or we can take this moment to stop, look, feel, put down our digital devices and connect with each other.

One of my favourite quotes from Robin is, “I used to think the worst thing was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing is to end up with people who make you feel all alone.” We move about in a world where that is the norm. Please people, let us be human with each other. Let’s use our many gadgets to make life easier, not to replace life with an illusion. Let us embrace our own fragility, and the fragility of our neighbours, parents, children — even our enemies. Let us share the discomfort of that fragility together.

If any of you who are reading this are wrestling with thoughts of suicide, please click on this link


Babi Yar Shostokovich

Shostokovich: Babi Yar


Dmitri Shostokovich had the frustrating task of being one of the best Composers in Russia during the Soviet era. He regular fell in and out of favour. He had philistine commissars tell him how he should compose.

From Sept 1941 till it was liberated in 1943, between 100,000 and 250,000 were murdered and thrown into the ravine of Babi Yar outside of Kiev.

Today a monument now stands

above Babi Yar,

A memorial to the Thousands of Citizens who died here

because they ran out of Jews.

Here Thousands of Jews (most of the Jews from Kiev and surrounding areas) were massacred along with POWs, Partisans, The Kiev Foootball team, Romani, Soviet Sailors. Russians and Ukrainians.

shost sym 13

Yevgeny Yevtushenko memorialized the massacre with a poem in 1961. It was a gutsy move to write such a poem even though it was, in theory a time of the “Krushchev Thaw”. It was just as gutsy for Shostokovich to write a Symphony based on Yevtushenko’s poems.

Shost Babi Yar CD cover