The great comedian and actor Robin Williams was found dead on Monday afternoon of an apparent suicide. The loss is an enormous one. The tributes have been many and appropriately so. I’d like mine to be relevant to the usual objects of discussion here. I trust you’ll not find it forced.
In the film Dead Poets Society, Williams brilliantly plays John Keating, an unorthodox teacher who rejects the strictures of the elite Welton Academy and implores his students to search for meaning in their lives. In a crucial scene, Williams tells his students that “we don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute, we read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.” He goes on to quote Walt Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!,” a poem that ends by speaking directly to its readers: “the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.” Williams repeats that great line again and then turns to his students to ask the telling question: “What will your verse be?”
But this powerful climax matters more when considered in context with what happens just prior. Take a look.