Robin Williams has died. Those four words still ring in my head. Yoda and I are spending August at my parents’ lake house in Wisconsin. My parents were watching the CBS Evening News and I was curled up on the sofa deeply engrossed in a book. I wasn’t at all listening to the TV, consciously anyway, when I heard that statement from the news anchor as if he were standing next to me screaming it in my ears. I jumped when I heard it, so much so that Yoda was jolted out of his nap and sat up next to me looking around with alarm.
In the two weeks following the news of Robin Williams’ suicide, I’ve been really reflective, slipping easily into heady private thoughts. But the interesting thing is I’m not contemplative about what you may think I’m feeling melancholy about. Yes, it’s truly heart crushing that someone as iconic and talented as Robin Williams took his own life. I came of age being entertained by him, and I’ve often thought of him as one of the few well-adjusted Hollywood A-listers who actually had it all. I never would have thought that behind his smile he was hard at battle with such violent private demons. But just as his public persona fooled so many of us into thinking he had life all figured out, so do the faces and personalities of so many non-celebrities in our lives. That’s the part that has me a bit sad, a bit reflective, and a bit lost in thought about the journey of life.
I’ve been looking at people during the past couple of weeks wondering what is behind their smiles:
- The Toyota service guy, smiling so brightly as he handed me my keys after giving Princess Leia the Prius an oil change.
- The checkout clerk at the grocery store, who handed me my receipt while commenting on how glorious the weather was that day.
- A man who lives in my parents’ neighborhood, who eagerly showed me the flowers in his garden when Yoda and I chatted him up while on a mid-day walk.
- The barefoot Amish lady at the Amish bakery who cheerily said in her Pennsylvania Dutch accent, “Have a nice day” as she sold me a cherry pie.
I even searched the internet for a photo of the Dalai Lama and stared into his happy twinkling eyes, wondering how much of the ebb and flow of human emotion he experiences on a daily basis.
All these people smiling, as if their lives are perfect. But I know their lives aren’t perfect. That’s because it is completely and totally impossible for a human being, whether rich, poor, ugly, beautiful, famous or not, to have a perfect life. Not even the Dalai Lama. Something is always off. Everyone is always fighting some sort of personal battle that we know nothing about.
Look at this photo of me that I use as the profile photo on my blog. I find it strange that I look really happy. I wasn’t. In reality I was at one of the darkest, unhappiest points in my life. This picture was taken by my Santa Monica neighbor moments before Yoda and I piled into the car to spend the next five months on the road seeking happiness and inner peace.
It’s now almost four years later on my quest for shama, and I finally think I’m starting to understand. Life isn’t perfect. There’s always likely some sort of struggle behind our smiles. The closest we can get to a perfect life is to understand and embrace the simple truth that life is not perfect. Once we do that, then somehow life’s challenges become easier and even start to make sense. At least they have for me. I really believe that life is about energetic balance. You can’t have one extreme emotion without having the opposite emotion eventually appear to balance things out. When I go through a rough patch, I remind myself that nature’s law is on my side – things WILL get better. And they always do. So I will keep smiling, and I hope you do too.