I read a post a couple of days ago saying that such is fame that terrible deaths are happening all over the globe, and yet the Internet mourns Robin Williams. I think that’s largely to do with the fact that those deaths, as terrible as they are, really aren’t people we know or even think we know. They are more of an abstraction: it’s hard to grasp 5000 dead or 15,000 stranded on a mountain, etc. Those numbers get very impersonal, and even though we are empathetic, there’s a limit to how much emotion – other than outrage – we can really show. It doesn’t mean those deaths are not as important as a famous persons’, it just means it’s harder for us to grasp and properly mourn or react to. They are complicated deaths with complicated circumstances that leave us with complicated feelings.
Conversely, when a single person we grew up with, who touched our lives in some way if for no other reason than they made us smile when we didn’t feel like it, or told us something important about ourselves that we hadn’t thought of before – this death isn’t some complicated abstract idea that happens on the other side of the world to people we’ll never really know much more about than their nationality or religious affiliation. This death is specific, easily understandable, and feels like the loss of a member of our extended family – that cousin they always tell stories about at Thanksgiving, for instance.
So, while the post above wasn’t judging the fact that we seem to care more about one death than the other, I really think that isn’t the case. I think it’s that, any reaction other than hoping for the widespread death of thousands to stop seems a bit insincere, since we don’t know any of the people who died and they didn’t really touch us with their lives. But we know how to react to the other death, because that one feels personal and seems preventable.
The second thought is about other people we know with this sort of disease. I know many of us have been struck with some level of depression, whether it’s brought on by some other problem, like ADD or pregnancy hormones, or many times the depression itself is the problem. And any of us who are here right now have pulled through that depression and made it out the other side, or are still going through it but have not yet reached that final pit where the walls seem made of slick black obsidian and the light is so very very far away – and seeing someone as famous as Mr. Williams succumb to this dark, empty place may give you the impression that, if he can’t make it out with all of his money and therapy and helpers and fans and whatever else he had as a support group, then how the fuck are YOU supposed to? Well, keep in mind that when anyone, famous or not, is at that point, it doesn’t matter how famous they are, or any of that other stuff. What matters is that they didn’t reach out to the people who loved them and who they loved, and they didn’t get the helping hand they needed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t. Their inability to either speak up or avail themselves of the help they had available is irrelevant to your ability to do the same thing. Which means, those of us who are NOT going through something like this have the responsibility to pay attention to those of us who are. Know your friends and loved ones, listen, and pay attention, and be there when they need you – hell, be there when they don’t even KNOW they need you. That’s how we keep the next depressive episode from turning out like this.
Which brings me to my last thought – has anyone checked on Patton Oswalt?
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