This blog is comprised of something I wrote in August of 2014 when Robin Williams died. It may seem strange to post about that event in November of 2016, but to me, they are inextricably connected. Tonight, I will watch Dead Poets Society and mark the day, the day another man died, who has been “pushing up daisies” for twelve years now, Kelly, my husband—it has taken me a long time to figure out a fitting way to mark this day. It’s not a day to celebrate his life (that I do on his birthday); and it’s certainly not a day to celebrate his death. But there is a need in me to mark the day, the anniversary of his passing, and watching that movie helps me do that. It helps me renew my intention to claim the idea embodied in the phrase Carpe Diem. I will continue to Seize the Day. I will continue to move forward. I will see the good in others. I will see the beauty that abounds in the world. I will be happy. I will look forward to the future. But for today I will pause, I will be gentle with myself, I will remember, and I will honor our life together, and because of the promise of eternity I will simply say, I’ll be seeing you.
Love ya, Kelly,
Reflections of Dead Poets Society, Robin Williams, Jason, and Kelly
I am saddened today to hear of Robin Williams’ death. I remember him first through watching Mork and Mindy as a teenager, and then of course his movies, some rather bland, some entertaining, and some excellent. Dead Poets Society, however, was the one that stayed with me long after the credits rolled. As a lover of poetry, Shakespeare, and writing, I loved the story, and it spoke to the creative part of me. There are so many gems in the movie, delivered so effectively. These two, delivered by Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) are my favorites:
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman: ‘O me, o life of the questions of these recurring, of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities filled with the foolish. What good amid these, o me, o life?’ Answer: that you are here. That life exists, and identity. That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?
And this one:
‘O Captain, my Captain.’ Who knows where that comes from? Anybody? Not a clue? It’s from a poem by Walt Whitman about Mr. Abraham Lincoln. Now in this class, you can either call me Mr. Keating, or if you’re slightly more daring, O Captain, my Captain. Now let me dispel a few rumors so they don’t fester into facts. Yes, I too attended Hell-ton and survived. And no, at that time I was not the mental giant you see before you. I was the intellectual equivalent of a ninety-eight pound weakling. I would go to the beach and people would kick copies of Byron in my face….
‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.’ The Latin term for that sentiment is Carpe Diem. Now who knows what that means?…Seize the day. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may. Why does the writer use these lines?…Because we are food for worms, lads. Because, believe it or not, each and every one of us in this room is one day gonna stop breathing, turn cold, and die.
Now I would like you to step forward over here and peruse some of the faces from the past. You’ve walked past them many times. I don’t think you’ve really looked at them. They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you. Their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen. Do you hear it? (whispering in a gruff voice) Carpe. Hear it? (whispering) Carpe. Carpe Diem. Seize the day boys. Make your lives extraordinary.
In November of 2004, my husband, Kelly; my daughter, Jaimie; and my son, Jason; had the opportunity to perform in a stage version of Dead Poets Society. Jaimie was playing a school girl, who visits the boarding school boys in the cave scene. Jason played the lead character, Neil Perry, a student at a boarding school. And Kelly, his father, played Neil’s overbearing, militant father, Mr. Perry. The chemistry between them on stage brought an entirely believable element to the play.
Opening night was November 8, 2004. My whole family, except Cameron, who was twelve years old, was there. (I couldn’t find him when it was time to go, and I figured he could see it another night.) The actors did an amazing job, and I was so caught up in the story, with the ending of “Oh Captain, my captain,” playing over and over in my mind, that several hours later, I was still thinking about the play, the performance between Kelly and Jason, and thinking about how the pressure from his father led to Neil’s suicide. It also stirred up in me a need to affirm the difference between Kelly the actor, and Kelly, the father— because even though the dialogue was memorized, the exchanges felt so real, almost a reflection of angsty/angry exchanges that happened sometimes in real life, between Kelly and Jason.
But, after a long day of work, and then the draining of energy that being on stage involved, Kelly was more interested in eating tacos and watching a rebroadcast of a BYU football game than in having a serious post mortem on the play and how close the parallels to real life it may or may not have been. By this time, it was late, but I sat on the floor next to him for a while, my head leaning against him as he reclined, watching football. With weariness claiming me, I kissed his forehead, wished him goodnight, and made my way to bed, and promptly fell asleep.
In the early morning, I startled awake instinctively reaching for Kelly, but he wasn’t there. Glancing at the clock, I noted that it said 4:02. I thought to myself, he fell asleep watching that football game, I’d better go get him to come to bed. Groggily, I dragged myself upstairs. Switching off the blaring TV, I turned, and touching Kelly’s shoulder, I gently shook him, telling him to come to bed. He didn’t respond. I shook his shoulder again, harder, still no response. Then as I touched his hand, I realized something was wrong. His hands were cold, too cold and his face was slack. And despite everything, calling 911, administering CPR, he never woke up, he was gone, dead, with lingering bits of makeup from the play still on his face. It was early morning on November 9, 2004, and my world changed forever.
The life and death theme of the movie/play became my nightmare, my life. Since then, I have learned the value behind the idea of Carpe Diem, seize the day, for you never know when you, too will be fertilizing daffodils. For me, Dead Poets Society is inextricably linked to Kelly’s death. And now, each year, on that anniversary, I watch Dead Poets Society and hear Mr. Keating proclaim, Carpe Diem, which helps me go on.
PS: Several years after Kelly’s death I wrote this poem, trying to capture the essence of my experience: In Fifty-Five Words.