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Shadow of Light

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Written by   38
1 year ago

*Photo created in Canva Pro*

Standing in the wings, as he has done so often in the past, he makes small talk with those around him. This afternoon's show is a pretty big deal. After a lifetime of one-liners juxtaposed alongside elaborate but amusing stories from his life, this is to be his swan song. A matinee performance of his greatest hits, and it's a sell-out!

Twenty minutes before 'curtain up', he paces, head lowered, gaze fixated on the turn of his heels, inaudible murmurs escaping pursed lips. Wringing his hands, the hard whites of his knuckles rise in stark contrast to the soft hues of his inner palms. Each breath feels more deliberate than the one before. He stops momentarily to peek into the theatre, his eyes dart keenly, searching out each face within the gathering crowd. With a front-row seat reserved for the occasion, he knows she will be there, but he wants to make sure that everyone is ok. That's just him; always looking out for others, securing their happiness above his own.

"You ready for this big fellow?" His companion rests a hand gently on his shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze. "There's gonna be a lotta sad folk out there tonight, but I'm sure you'll raise the roof... you always do."

Ready? He has been ready for this his entire life, but nothing quite prepares you for the moment, until it actually arrives. His thoughts drift. He should be happy. After all, he has achieved so much in his career, but the occasion is tinged with sadness. It's a bitter-sweet letting go of memories, of his time spent in the arts, a creator of comedic interludes of sustained laughter and joy. The culmination of a lifetime's work.

"You know," he ventures in reply, "I've rubbed shoulders with the best of the best; heck I've been showered with accolades myself. But what did I do to deserve them? I mean, what is a comedian's worth? Is it measured by an ability to elicit laughter from an audience?" He pauses momentarily. "I love bringing smiles to those around me; to see their eyes brighten up and their spirits rise. From the barely audible chuckle to the belting belly roar, I've told crackerjacks capable of bringing the house down. Being a part of all of that is special, but was I helping to make those people truly happy?" His philosophising at this juncture seems rather inconsequential, but, for now, he is going with the flow.

Still standing by his side, his companion postures, "Rob, it was always your role to invoke joy, by sharing your life's insights through clever quips, humorous anecdotes, and silly platitudes. To shed and spread your light and bring pleasure and satisfaction to many. The ultimate goal of the comic is to become adept in the art of making other people happy... whilst ideally earning a living off the fruits of their labour. I'm fairly certain you achieved all of that, and more ..."

As the voice trails off, he ponders. Surely happiness is defined by more than simply a momentary excitement of the senses? It has to be something more than "a pleasurable or satisfying experience"? Being happy is linked to our emotional state, he thinks, and so by definition, it cannot be a constant, as our emotions are forever in flux; subject to upheaval within the dynamic fabric and framework of human experience that impacts us each day. He knows that, all too well. If, at its core, being happy is transient in nature, then what momentary delights he has provided could only have been a temporary and light distraction in a world ordinarily consumed with despair. His life 'role' suddenly doesn't feel particularly important in the grand scheme of things.

Deep in thought, his fingertips first tapping and then lightly caressing his jawline, seeking the right words. "Surely, to be truly happy in life we need to experience a longer-lasting emotional connection with ourselves and those around us, a deeper more fulfilling, and enduring state of well-being and contentment".

It is then that he realises that his erstwhile cohort is no longer at his side. "Erm...erm...John?" he stammers, eyes widening, thoughts flailing. He glances at his watch, surprised just for a moment that he is still wearing one. He starts to wonder, with a little under 10 minutes to go before his finale, whether now is a good time to panic.

"Rob! Over here!" His eyes follow the sound of John's voice, locating his position on the lighting deck high above the stage, where John is beckoning to him. "Come on up! You'll love the view!"

As he climbs the stairs alongside the stage, he considers his own life and the challenges he has faced; how deep joy, gathered through a lifetime of pocketed memories, has been disturbed and overridden, and all sense of fulfillment sucked out through forces beyond his control. Whether the adversary takes the form of alcoholism, drug addiction, mental health issues, or physical ailments, the imbalance within the body always needs addressing, or the adversary will win out. And for him, it always did. When the nights closed in and darkness enveloped his mind, he had nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. He had found himself alone with his demons. Happiness had been the drug that had kept him moving, full steam ahead, all these years. Ironically, its transiency became the brake that derailed him from life's tracks. And now; now it was too late.

Putting his thoughts to one side for a moment, he pulls himself up alongside John and gazes down on the audience below, nodding in silent agreement. John is right, the view from up here is almost ethereal. The late afternoon sun filters in through the tall windows, laying bare long shadows across the room. He has little time now left for reflection. The show will be starting soon.

Whilst the immensity of his persona had cast a beautiful shadow of light across all who met him or experienced his genius, for himself sadly, he realises that not only has he existed in the shadow of his own light for too long, a fraction of the man he once was, but he has become both the shadow and the light, shifting too easily between two states of being. Now his moment has finally come to take his seat and look through the window of all of his yesterdays for the last time.

Now, finally, clarity exists. His realisation hits him as to that which is central to life:

"living the primordial in the here and now, as well as becoming and passing away, searching and finding - recognizing shadows and light as part of an eternal cycle and understanding oneself as an element of it." source

"True happiness isn't about being happy all the time...Unlike feeling happy, which is a transient state, leading a happier life is about individual growth through finding meaning. It is about accepting our humanity with all its ups and downs, enjoying the positive emotions, and harnessing painful feelings to reach our full potential." source.

His epiphany is long overdue.

An hour later, the final scene delivered, she rises out of her seat, and alone in silent ovation, moves slowly across the floor to meet him. She gazes lovingly into the warmth of his eyes staring back at her, a moment in time captured forever. She caresses the side of his face, tracing the outline of his familiar smile. Their love was real, the epitome of happiness between glass and gilt edge.

She had picked out the photograph herself. His eulogy was perfect.

Through blurred tears, she clutches it tightly to her heart, the entirety of her being now folding over, convulsing, enveloping it in a hug, the finality of which consumes her, as she slips to her knees, surrendering to the pain. He wishes he could go to her. He can almost feel the anguished rise and fall of her body in his embrace.

"Good night, my sweet, sweet prince, be happy now" she finally whispers, her lips leaving their nude impressions on the frosted glass, before standing and replacing the simple frame on the closed casket. She lingers, not wanting to walk away.

Rob watches as an angel's tear falls like a feather to the theatre floor below. His own words fail to come but he recalls vividly his last to her that fateful night.

In the encore, she hears it again, a faint whisper inside her heart, the memory of the refrain pervading her thoughts; his last utterance,

"Goodnight, my love...goodnight, goodnight" source


This short cameo is dedicated to a man whose life was spent trying to measure up. A man who fought his endless demons in the pursuit for personal happiness, and in the process, brought meaning not only to his own life but also to those lives upon which he generously bestowed his comedic genius and compassionate presence; millions of happy souls over whom he cast the long shadow of his light. In the end, a misdiagnosis of Parkinson's meant that his final adversary, Lewy Body Dementia, remained nameless and faceless until after his passing, although the attacks on his body were relentless. His widow, Susan Schneider Williams described him as being:

"...trapped in the twisted architecture of his neurons...the bravest man in the world playing the hardest role of his life." source

Tragically, it proved one fight too many to bear.

For Robin M. Williams (21 July 1951 - 11 August 2014).

Photo credit: Source: Created in Canva Pro

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Written by   38
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