Something has bothered me deeply about the national discourse on Robin William’s death. So much so that I didn’t want to write this post, because I didn’t want to use his name in vain. I
didn’t don’t want to use his death for my purposes. I am not going to reference it any more in this post… but here is what I have to say. His death isn’t about you. It’s not yours. It belongs to him. And his family.
When something terrible happens to someone famous, we all have reactions. We have opinions. We have memories of the person, ways their life touched us or affected ours. But the truth is, we didn’t know them. They aren’t real to us. We see glimpses, roles played, the public persona, not the person inside. And so the loss of that person, while sad, isn’t world ending. When something like this happens, and the world is captivated by the loss, the lingering public discourse always hurts me. I can’t bring myself to click on the articles. I don’t want to know the gory details, hear what the talking heads think, see the Top 10 Lists of best movie roles, their 14 best Golden Globe outfits, etc etc etc. The truth is, this was a person. They have friends. A family. Children. And I can’t imagine losing someone I love desperately, and having to hear the rest of the world discuss them over the water cooler.
The same thing happens at our nation’s major tragedies. I hate to see the reporters swarming a school shooting. I refuse to read the profiles of the shooters. I just don’t want to know. Why? Because in my mind, this person’s motivation was to become known. They want the world to know their name. To be captivated by their actions, their monstrosities. When I refuse to click on the link, I refuse to reward the acts of terror. We have to face it. We have a celebrity culture. We are watching the glitterati 24 hours a day. In our country, to be important is to be famous. To know about the comings and goings of the famous gives us something in common, something to talk about. A seat at the table.
But here is the problem with that… we don’t actually have that in common. We are just outsiders, looking in on someone else’s life, someone else’s tragedy. The heartbreak of the people on the news is not ours to carry. We can’t bring them a meal, show up at the wake, sit with them while they cry… we aren’t a part of their life. We are just gawking at them from the other side of the screen.
In a way, I believe that the best ministry we can have to those people is privacy. Give them the space and the room to mourn. Show support and empathy, but hold the spectacle. Stop the discourse. This tragedy isn’t an issue, it’s a life. A person. A person in pain- not that uncommon. We spend our lives surrounded by hurting people. People whose lives we can impact. Stories we can carry with us. These are the people that need our presence, our ministry, our attention. Have an opinion on depression? Suicide? How much time have you spent walking alongside someone who has been depressed? Sat with people who have been robbed of loved ones by suicide? These people are yours to carry. Engage with them, engage with your world. Instead of blogging, commenting, or tweeting about these issues, it’s time for us to get our hands dirty. To invite our neighbors, friends, and coworkers into our lives and communities, and to do life with those in pain. We can talk about suicide until we are blue in the face, but no amount of awareness, no pithy statement is going to stop this epidemic. That hope lies within the context of relationship; it lies in face to face conversations; meals spent together; loving faces to witness the darkness of the pit.
That’s how Jesus did his ministry- not in public announcements, press releases, or blog posts (parchment posts?) but in living life with a group of people. The disciples lives were transformed during nights around the campfire, fish roasting on a spit. Jesus was deeply involved his people, and those people in turn, transformed the world. It’s easier to stand at a distance and voice our opinions… but the reality is that nothing changes this way. Dive in… engage… be present. Be with the people you are with, not the people you watch from afar.