Robin Williams died yesterday. The Monster got him… after a lengthy pursuit.
I’ve known that monster well, sometimes much too closely, and far too well, during my own 60 years on the planet. I grieve this loss to the world, and to myself, with the awareness that it’s a hard battle that no person outside of the suffering struggler him or herself can ever fully grasp, or effectively relieve. After the monster (or as in the film below, The Red Knight) finds us and levels his sword at us, whether we ultimately survive or fall, we are not the same. We cannot, and never will, be the same. The Grail Wound (as Jung spoke of it) is with us, and it will be the quest of the rest of our lives to seek out the healing.
The wound travels with you, and sometimes (oftentimes) serves the creative gift. Our hearts ache deep inside and the wound burns from the inside out. The drive to make something, find something, live something out is the modern daily expression of the everlasting Grail Quest, the desperate journey to find the holy object that will ultimately heal the wound and stop the pain. As often as not (and perhaps more often than not) the wound is not a result of the gift that brings the creative expression and artistic joy. It is the engine of that expression and the source of that joy.
The beauty and brilliance of Robin was clearly tied to that wound and while he found relief from it in his art, in his family, and in the personal fulfillment of his various pursuits, the wound remained and the Monster would always return. Robin was absolutely the most exuberant, intelligent and passionately creative comedian I have ever seen (and I saw him in person four times over the years). The first time I saw him live he held a huge audience in a giant auditorium in the palm of his hand and eviscerated a heckler in the top balcony with such rapid fire repartee that it silenced the audience, which then quickly burst into loud laughter and enthusiastic applause. His acting skills were supreme, and his dedication to the craft was as rich and vibrant in drama as it was mercurial and spontaneous in comedy.
I believe that at least some of this scene from The Fisher King is drawn from his personal experience of the depth of anguish he must have experienced (as many of us experience) on a regular basis. Filtered through his actor’s instrument and delivered in service to his audience and art, he delivers a performance that is both deeply authentic and terribly true.
Somewhere buried in the dark corners of my storage unit, there is a box of journals; a ridiculous heap of black bound books with scribblings from cover to cover, documenting the past 40 years of my life. On one of the pages of one of those journals is a scribbled drawing in red and black of a ghastly gargoyle’s head, tongue hanging out and blood dripping from his mouth. It’s the drawing of my monster as it appeared to me on one very dark afternoon in my little apartment in San Francisco. It’s much like a vision of Kali I had one night lying in bed in Calcutta and it has returned to me in other forms throughout the years. It’s a face that I have seen many times, a representation of a persona with which I have done battle on more than one occasion. Once, many years ago, he almost got me, but I survived through good timing, good fortune, and good friends. Subsequently, I found some avenues of assistance in facing him down when he would arrive on horseback raging and flaming, roaring and threatening. Other times he sneaks up quietly like Gollam, whispering in my ear, flirting, cajoling, or spreading insipid guilt. These attacks can subside for long periods of time, but they always eventually return.
I’ve found ways to live with the wound, but I also long for a day when the quest is done, and I find the healing that only Parcevel can bring by returning to ask the question “Whom does the Grail serve?”
The answer to the question is the ultimate goal of both art and life.
Robin, in and through his own quest for that answer, gifted the rest of us with a glorious collection of artifacts, signposts and trail markers gathered along the road and left as evidence for the next pilgrim on the way.