When I was a little girl, maybe 6…7, we would have Sunday night dinner at my Gram’s house. We would drive home at the end of the night, 2/5 of the car asleep, and we would suddenly fall above something I used to call Fairyland. Not sure if my parents or I coined the term, but it was at the top of the hill, where all the lights of Almaden would shine, and it was Fairyland. It was my favorite thing. I was reminded of it when I landed at SFO last week: Magic.
You see, lately, I feel very small. Not like I’m minuscule, or powerless, but as I’m always reminded, I’m just a piece in the puzzle we call life–a contributor.
I had several ups and downs this summer, from moments of helplessness, to feelings of being on top of the world. And I’m so happy to have experienced them both, along with the nuances in between.
It makes me human.
I’ve been thinking a lot about being human lately. Feeling very small. Friends have had babies, friends have dealt with loss. I was on a boat in the Chicago River in July with my mom, looking up at the great American Skyscraper, and I felt tiny. I was pulled inside the circus tent I bought my 2 year-old Goddaughter last week, and once again felt like a child. This summer, I experienced water balloons with 5-year-olds, a car break-in, and weeping like a child at the news that one of my students was finally in remission. I felt very small.
But not in a bad way.
When I was 22, wet behind the ears, fresh from college, I set out one morning to Clement street, a few blocks from where I lived, following rumors that I would run into Robin Williams, a “neighbor”. I was selling books back to Green Apple, one of the finest independent bookstores, which have always been close to my heart.
The half-second I spoke to Robin threw me for a loop. I watched Mork & Mindy as a kid. I knew every character in Mrs. Doubtfire (I. Am. job. I am Job). Dead Poets Society spoke to me on a personal level–many levels, and stayed with me–continues to stay with me. I turned around from selling my books, and really ran into him. He wore khaki shorts, red converse with no socks, and a shirt with Chinese characters and “Harmony” written underneath, in a Chinese restaurant take-out font. He said, “Well, hello there.”
He was short and hairy, and I was speechless, especially when looking into the depth of his very blue eyes. Despite towering over him, I was very small.
I just said “Hey”.
The entire walk from 4th and Clement to 11th and Clement, I smacked myself. Why hadn’t I said, “Nanoo-Nanoo”, or “O, Captain, my Captain”, or “It was a drive-by fruiting!”? I missed my big chance.
2 weeks ago, I was driving home from my 6-week hiatus in Tahoe, when I heard the news of Robin’s death on the radio. I knew it wasn’t a heart attack, or any natural event in my heart-of-hearts. And again, I felt very small.
I stumbled across Good Morning, Vietnam, a movie I saw first as a teen, and second in my 20s, and again tonight. Yes, Robin performed in his maniacal way–ad-libbed, willy-nilly.
Until the first scene away from base, in the village, where he sees a small child who has something wrong with him.
Parts of this small child’s face don’t match up with the rest of his skin tone, and you see the shift in Robin. Yes, he tries to make the baby laugh with the lid of a pot, but Robin’s eyes are soft. Like they were at the end of the film, when he plays coconut baseball with the villagers he teaches English. The softness in his very blue eyes deepens. He, too, is very small. Harmony.
He shows this side of him when on camera with the real sick kids in Patch Adams. The patients from the St. Jude commercials. When addressing kids about divorce in Mrs. Doubtfire. Coming to terms with teen suicide in Dead Poets Society. Homelessness in The Fisher King. Homosexuality and identity in The Birdcage. The origins of Comic Relief with Whoopi and Billy. Good Will Hunting. Every time he steps away from the caricature of how we “know” him, and embraces the human piece of the puzzle we call life.
I forgot that not only could he make me laugh until I peed myself, but he could also make me feel very small. Not like I’m minuscule, or powerless, but again, a human piece of the puzzle.
I hate suicide. I’ve experienced it–students, friends, family friends. It leaves so many things unresolved. Until we realize that we who are left behind are very small. We focus only on the caricature of our loved one who has left us, instead of the very small pieces, the Harmony. That’s where we need to focus.
Nothing takes the pain away from my personal loss of Will, Peter, Brendan, even Robin–but we can see them in a new light. Those moments where they, too, were very small, very human. In Harmony.
Rest in peace, Robin. Thank you for reminding me of how great it feels to feel very small.
Please Don’t Tell Her–Big Head Todd
Fun, Fun,Fun–The Beach Boys
All My Friends–Counting Crows
Is it for Me–Toad the Wet Sprocket
Don’t it Make You Wanna Dance–Bonnie Raitt
I Me Mine–The Beatles