'It's not your fault.”
I’m not prone to tears. I’m not really prone to overt displays of emotion in general, but tonight I am in floods of gentle tears about a stranger’s passing.
It’s the power of art, I think, that it can touch us very deeply in ways we don’t necessarily expect. This is not a profound or groundbreaking statement, but I just remembered that the name my father calls me is from Robin Williams’ sign-off in Mork & Mindy. It’s been one of my names since before I have conscious memory, so in a way, so has Robin Williams.
Belonging to the generation I do, Robin Williams was part of the fabric of my childhood. I saw Aladdin more times than I can count like countless other children, but I also want to talk a little bit about how Robin Williams was part of the formation of my understanding that art is powerful.
I remember this scene in particular because I had never heard it, the simple phrase “It’s not your fault” in this context, never with this degree of perfect, hard-won sincerity. Troubled, disruptive children rarely hear this from the adults in their life. I cried harder furtively watching this on stolen VHS long after I was meant to be asleep than I ever had while watching anything before. The power of this reached me from a hunk of plastic in an outdated VCR in a basement I used to hide in, and it’s never quite left me.
This is a performance that made me feel better for a little while, and I can’t textually express how important it was to me, at the time and ever since, to realise that art has meaning, that there were people out there who also might have needed to hear this, or it wouldn’t exist.
I am going to miss Robin Williams, not just for his unfailingly warm, wry presence as I experienced it through his work, even with his ability to be chilling, but for his ability to reach through the screen and illustrate to me that there was a spark of something more vital and visceral in the world than I had ever imagined.