Some time this week we will likely see two funerals. A beloved comedy icon, Robin Williams, who died last Monday, in an apparent suicide in the Bay Area in California. And a young African American man named Michael Brown in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri, shot and killed by a police officer two days earlier.
The juxtaposition of these two events is almost eerie. Each drove the other from the front pages for a time. Each, and the reaction to them, says something about ourselves as a people and ours as a country. Who are we? What do we think? What to we believe? And what, ultimately, do we want for ourselves and our country?
One can only imagine the despair that drove Robin Williams to his desperate final act. Nearly every friend and colleague interviewed about the death said that, while they were incredibly saddened, they were not surprised. The darkness that lay within Robin Williams was in stark contrast to the bright merriment he brought to his work…and to the hearts of his audiences…and was obvious to all of those who knew him best.
And yet, here was a man who touched nearly every one of us. Whether on television or in the movies or from the stage with his comedy act…who has not at one time or another marveled at the incredible talent of the man, the way he lit up our lives or touched our minds and our souls. He made us laugh, he made us think, he made us feel. That was his gift to us. And so it is natural that we, all of us, mourn him.
But what of Michael Brown? What of the young life that was snuffed out before it could truly be said to have begun? Regardless of its end, Robin Williams had a life, had hopes and dreams that came true…or didn’t…had his effect on the world and went to his reward loved or not, admired or not. But Michael Brown goes to his grave yet a blank page, whatever hopes and dreams he may have had yet unhoped, yet undreamed of.
And while Robin Williams death was met with undiluted grief and mourning…Michael Brown’s has been met by anger, protest and even rioting. It is almost as if we, as a nation, are unwilling to accept the reality of this young African American’s death and what it may yet say about us and the progress…or lack thereof…we may have made on racial issues.
So we mourn both these men. And, in a sense, we mourn for ourselves and for who we thought we were. And who, it turns out, we are not.