"Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may."
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
Out of the exceptional works of Robin Williams (1951 – 2014), three performances stand out as ways for us to live more examined lives.
The Wisdom of Innocence
Rather than in print, one of my favorite short stories first appeared in a remarkable film, The Fisher King. In the 1991 film, written by Richard LaGravenese and directed by Terry Gilliam, Robin Williams tenderly delivers the Arthurian legend of the "Fisher King."
A pure child is called innocent, yet as an adult, we label him a fool. We mistake his vulnerability for foolishness, which is unfortunate because there is wisdom to innocence. We complicate the world with ambition and desire, but innocence cuts through to "what ails you."
What is it that we ultimately we need? We mistake vehicles of happiness for happiness. And perhaps it's not achievement, money, or power, but rather, friendship, happiness, and love. After all, why did we originally pursue glory? We believed it was a way to become happy. And somewhere along the way we forgot and got burned by the quest. And perhaps the "fools," who see friends rather than adversaries, who do not care about achievement, exist to remind us of what life is about — of what life has always been about.
Crossing the Threshold
In the 1997 film Good Will Hunting, written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and directed by Gus Van Sant, Robin Williams plays Dr. Sean Maguire, a therapist to self-taught genius Will Hunting, played by Matt Damon. Hunting, having had a traumatic upbringing, handicaps himself from new life experiences out of fear of more emotional pain. Rather than exposing himself, Hunting deflects and masks himself behind sarcastic quips and intellectual knowledge. Maguire challenges Hunting to drop his defensive mechanisms and open up — and to do that Maguire must allow himself to be vulnerable, first.
Good Will Hunting
How much do we stand in our own way because of fear of vulnerability? Like the boy-king, Hunting "had no faith in any men, not even himself. He couldn’t love or feel loved. He was sick with experience." Without vulnerability, there is no courage, and without courage, we will never cross the threshold.
No amount of intellectual knowledge can replace experience. A life without experience is absent of sickness because it is absent of living. What a shame, then, to miss out on the joy of living. It's a risky proposition, living, but it's one worth the risk, even when it stings.
In the 1989 film Dead Poets Society, written by Tom Schulman and directed by Peter Weir, Robin Williams plays John Keating, an English teacher at an all-male, elite prep school. Through the works of "dead poets," Keating inspires his students to live — and to know what it means to be alive.
Dead Poets Society
Let us live. Let us fulfill our capacities. "Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" — with courage, vulnerability, and the purity of a fool who is willing to ask the world, "What ails you, friend?"
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