The death of Robin Williams hit me unexpectedly hard. In my lifetime there have been so many significant influencers to pass, yet none of them affected me the way this did. I continued to find myself tearing up whenever thinking of this terrible loss. For a while, I couldn’t understand why this case was so different until I was reminded of a film I had not seen in a very long time. “O Captain, my Captain,” one friend started a post, and without warning a flood of emotions burst in my heart. Yes, my Captain, my inspiration, my mentor who had touched my heart at a pivotal moment and promised me how important it was to create; who showed me that art could change lives and how important it was to the human condition. How was it that I had forgotten?
It’s incredible to me that something that had moved me so profoundly could have been so easily lost into my subconscious, and that just that short verse could bring it all back. Once upon a time, this brilliant man jumped upon a desk and told his students, myself among them, to get up there and look at things in a different way.
I know my tears are selfish, and I know my need to write this is even more so. But the death of this beautiful teacher of mine awakened a memory I had long since forgotten. I have seen Dead Poet’s Society once in my life. While I watched Genie, Peter Pan, and Alan Parrish on repeat as a child, I saw John Keating just one time. I understand that the words he spoke were not of his own creation, but Mr. William’s fed them to my soul and kindled a hope at the time that I needed it most.
Because here’s the thing about me: I am smart. Most of my talents I am very shy about, but the one thing that I know to be true about myself is that given the time and resources, I can excel in any book subject with little effort. I understand how pompous it sounds, but I know that had they been my passions, I could have been a lawyer, or a doctor, or an engineer- but they never were. I am very grateful to have had parents that were always supportive of my love for the arts, but when it came time to seriously consider my future, they couldn’t help but worry as parents do. They reminded me of my limitless opportunities. I could be “very comfortable” if I pursued a life of litigation. But that right there was the problem. I had never wanted “comfortable.” There had always been something magical and discomforting about words, whether on page, on screen, on stage, or on the lips of a 100 persons chorus; they brought me to life. They had the power to move me to tears, the power to challenge me- to stand upon my desk and look at things in a different way.
I had never been able to understand why they transfixed me so, until Mr. Keating explained:
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are the things we stay alive for… the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
And even though I had long forgotten this pivotal moment, my subconscious never had. The tears stain my face now because that year I made an enormous decision. I chose the uncomfortable. I chose to dedicate my life to creating an art that was so important to me; to be a contributor to that powerful play, because Mr. Keating had convinced me that “no matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.” I know that to be true, because here I am today, pursuing this crazy dream all because of them. My only hope is that one day I write a verse that moves someone the way his did for me.
I am devastated to say goodbye to this man who made me laugh and made me believe in living for more. It breaks my heart to know that the ideas that he shared in his performances, which convinced me of the limitless beauty and reason for life, were not enough for him. I will never know what pains haunted him. But I hope that someday, in another life, or another place, I can thank him for teaching me the words, “carpe diem;” for guiding my heart down the road less traveled by, for that has made all the difference. Oh Captain, my Captain, you made life extraordinary, and I can never thank you enough.