Robin in the sky

Written on August 13, 2014.


Our flight to Bali departed at 4 in the morning, as the storm began leaving Manila. Our tiny metal capsule throttled through the sky, through mild rain and dark clouds, and I closed my eyes, telling God all my secrets.

The turbulence hit an hour into the flight, a sick thud rocking the plane violently. The girl beside me clutched on to her scarf for dear life, muttering profanities under her breath. We locked eyes for a moment and the words suddenly tumbled out of her: “I’m sorry, I don’t want to freak you out but I’m scared.”

“It’s okay,” I told her. “It’s okay.”
“Do you really think so? Is this normal?”
I nodded. “It helps to listen to music. Or pray. We will be fine.”

She looked at me again with wide, desperate eyes. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m scared.”

And in a really weird moment of vulnerability, I held her shoulder. I had never met this woman in my life – I don’t even know her name – but she was terrified and alone so I reached out.

We arrived in Bali three hours later, alive and well.


Life doesn’t promise much, does it? I’m writing this a million miles above land, en route to a place I call home. I don’t know when I became a tad bit more afraid of flying but just the smallest bumps have me sending distress signals to God. I do not want to die in a crash but then again, I don’t really get much of a say on how my life ends, do I?

The morning that I started writing this, news broke out regarding Robin Williams’ death. I was in the airport when my Twitter feed started going berserk upon the announcement of the funny man’s passing. Like many people I know, I sat there, grief-stricken.

I never had the privilege of meeting Mr. Williams but I feel a genuine affection for him. He is, after all, the star of many of my childhood favorites: Hook, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji. And when I got older: Patch Adams, Dead Poet’s Society, What Dreams May Come.

The last I saw of Robin Williams was his quick guest appearance in an episode of Louis CK’s ‘Louie’ which, ironically, was about death.

Robin Williams represented something precious, a time when comedy didn’t need to use drugs or sex as bait to win people over. Williams brandished a fearlessness, an uncanny ability to laugh at himself, the courage to be silly.

He wasn’t the most dazzling star in Hollywood and that was perfectly OK — it allowed him to be comfortable with his ridiculousness. And when the days were long and history unfolded to be dark and scary, dazzling wasn’t what we sought for. No, what our broken hearts chased after was all-encompassing silliness. That’s what Robin did for the world: he made us all laugh.

It is a gift. It is a precious, sacred gift to be able to make joy something tangible to others. To show up every day with the simple intention of making people happy, even for a moment.

What paws at my heart now, with utter desperation, is the fact that no one could give that gift back to him. As of recent, his death had been ruled as suicide via asphyxiation. Makes me wonder how a funny man could carry so much darkness. Makes me wonder about life and death and how little control we have over anything.

But it is my great hope that when moments of fear hit you — when the turbulence strikes or when loneliness finds you — that you fight against the tide. I hope you don’t get sucked into sorrow and build fortresses against all that seek to do you good. I hope you reach. I hope you brush shoulders or hold hands, even briefly, with the person across the aisle. We can’t choose how our stories will end but we can to choose to share them, every glorious and terrible part, with other people.

And as I write from the top of the world, not knowing what’s coming for me in the next moment, I hope — with every molcule of strength in your body — that you reach. You are never too far away from another arm or leg or pinky finger that’s looking to make contact, even briefly, in the vast uncertain ocean of life.

I hope you stretch yourself out into the darkness and connect because you are not alone. You are never alone.

Let that be the guiding light that leads you down whatever path you take now and forevermore.


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