Deciding what your Verse will be…
It’s funny whom we come to depend on. Sure, we’ve got a handful of friends and family we know we can call upon when times get tough, and we need a strong shoulder or easy smile. Then there are the silent sponsors; those folks we just assume will always be there, humming away in the background and ready at a moment’s notice to lift us up, enlighten our visage, or just make us laugh. It can be anyone from the friendly barista you see every morning, to the neighborhood cat who scuttles over for a head rub when you venture out to your mailbox, to the crossing guard that waves as you pause to let a gaggle of students cross the street.
Sometimes it can be the celebrity we never realized had captured our heart.
We come from a culture that worships fame. Gossip rags assault you in the checkout aisle. Television shows devote their entire time allotment to following around the barely famous, documenting their every moment for some sort of shameful posterity. Even if you pledge to be pop-culture agnostic, it’s hard to avoid the ever-present spotlight focused on the performers who capture the public’s imagination – we raise them up, then knock them off the pedestal only to watch with hungry eyes as they struggle towards their inevitable comeback.
Because the tide of public attention actively muddies the water, sometimes it’s difficult to weed out the wheat from the chaff. In the end, deciding who’s worth your time is an exercise in personal preference and subjective evaluation – you’ve got your favorites, and I’ve got mine. Amongst your “top ten list” there will always be those rare souls who appear to rise above the mediocrity of stardom; those select few who offer more – insight perhaps, or inspiration. They might give you a push in the right direction, or simply provide a balm to calm the scrapes and bruises day-to-day inflicts upon our psyche.
For many folks, including myself, Robin Williams was one of those select few. While others focus on the comedy, the cross-dressing, and the joyful genie-in-the-lamp, I’m pulled towards two performances in particular that have really and truly shaped the way I see the world. As Professor John Keating in Dead Poets Society, Williams is the perfect English teacher – the one we all wish had taught at our high school. We know, of course, that much of Keating’s wisdom comes from the mind of the screenwriter, but you can’t deny the impact of Williams’ delivery. In fact, when it came time to pick a favorite Robin Williams quote, I found that almost all my choices could be attributed to Dead Poets Society. Watching the film again yesterday, I felt the impact of previous viewings blaze like long-abandoned circuits re-energized from the flip of a dusty light switch. The film itself is like a muscle-memory: from the first “Oh Captain, my captain,” the whole experience comes rushing back. Each viewing traces over itself until I feel like I was one of those students in the classroom, striving to see life a little differently, hoping to contribute my own, powerful verse.
Yet for all the love I have for Dead Poets Society, it’s Good Will Hunting that sticks to my ribs. I think it’s hard to measure the impact of Williams’ portrayal of counselor Sean Maguire. Over the last few days, every tribute to the actor has included the scene on the bench (and that bench itself is now a makeshift memorial), and a majority of Internet commentators have pointed to that performance as pivotal to their lives. The insights Maguire imparts upon Will have stuck with me, informed how I view creativity, and significantly impacted my efforts to live an authentic life.
I know there’s some backlash to focusing too much on a celebrity’s passing. I don’t want to add to the many maudlin displays of public sorrow and insincere mourning. I understand that Williams is just a man, a stranger I never met, a person who had no connection to the person I am, and the life I live. Nevertheless, just like the authors I adore, the artists who amaze me, and the musicians who expand my awareness and touch my soul, there are a handful of actors who have inspired me, entertained me, and left an indelible impression.
I’ll leave you with two of my previous blog posts about Good Will Hunting, a film that forever inspires me to work towards a genuine and authentic existence.
And here’s Keating’s speech about why we read poetry from Dead Poets Society (you might need to turn the volume up):