The scene is a snowy one and there is a bus travelling down the road. And as the bus roars along, these are the thoughts – you can hear them right inside his head – of the traveller aboard. He’s looking, with all his pain and hope too, out the bus window.
“All of life is a coming home. Salesmen, secretaries, coal miners, beekeepers, sword swallowers, all of us. All the restless hearts of the world, all trying to find a way home.
“It’s hard to describe what I felt like then. Picture yourself walking for days in the driving snow; you don’t even know you’re walking in circles. The heaviness of your legs in the drifts, your shouts disappearing into the wind.
“How small you can feel, and how far away home can be. Home. The dictionary defines it as both a place of origin and a goal or destination. And the storm? The storm was all in my mind.
“Or as the poet Dante put it: In the middle of the journey of my life, I found myself in a dark wood, for I had lost the right path. Eventually I would find the right path, but in the most unlikely place.”
This is the opening scene to Patch Adams, one of Robin Williams’ better-known films. It sits downstairs in our old TV cupboard, along with Dead Poets Society and Awakenings and Hook and several other Williams movies.
(His most recent one that I saw was World’s Greatest Dad, a dark comedy about, interestingly enough, the cult of celebrity worship, and, also interestingly enough, the pain of suicide.)
Yes, it’s a strange thing how people we don’t know, not really know, except for an image on the screen (and an image off the screen too) can move us in a way words can’t fully describe.
In the case of Williams, we have been moved over many years not only through his gift of humour, but through his humanity.
With the exception of a very few things, the Bible chiefly among them, Williams’ movies have spoken to me that personally. I don’t think I’m alone in this. And one day, when my children are a bit older, we’ll watch at least some of them together.
This is because, despite what the naysayers conclude, God can use a movie (as much as donkey or anything else, really) to share what’s on his mind.
And plenty of Williams’ movies deal with all this, that is our humanness, our frailty, our need for love, for freedom, for forgiveness, our latent desire to live, to really live, to, as Thoreau and (Williams as prep school teacher John Keating) so eloquently put it “suck the marrow out of life.”
But now, today, this. The irony. And living with the aftershock of Williams’ suicide. Living with the knowledge of how black the darkness can be for any of us.
This bus ride.
Maybe I’m especially attached to this particular movie scene because when I was young I actually did this, I literally left home one early morning on a Greyhound.
Maybe I’m attached to another particular scene – it’s Robert De Niro now, that is Leonard, from Awakenings where Williams plays Dr. Malcolm Sayer. It speaks in a similar way.
Through some experimental drugs, Sayer has helped Leonard and some other patients out of what has been a sort of “living dead” existence, a catatonic state where these people lived in a trapped darkness for decades. Through the drugs, for the first time in all these years they can now walk. And run. And dance.
Leonard, with a love-interest, especially discovers this, slow dancing. And he laughs. And he really see things for what they are.
Until they, all the patients, relapse. Starting with Leonard. Now on the floor, unable to even stand anymore, grotesque and curled and helpless, he looks up at Sayer, that is Williams, who is capturing it all on film. And Leonard says “L-L-Le-Lea-Lear-Lear-Learnnnn.”
Somehow this is it, life down here, so dark. But one day we will rise. And dance. And so much more.
And one day if I ever meet Robin Williams, I will to tell him about this, about these scenes – the one of the snowy bus ride and the other scene on the L-Le-Lea-Learn-Learnnning – these images that are so etched in my mind.
And who knows, over there, if he will care to remember or even care at all? But who is anyone on this side of eternity to say that I won’t have the chance? Or, for that matter, that you won’t?