I can honestly say that I have no memories before I knew who Robin Williams was. I was raised on Aladdin and spent most of my youth wanting to be the Genie. As much as I tried, I had no great longing for Jasmine, a character who, on paper, had all the makings of a young girl's idol. She was a misunderstood princess, making men fall for her while looking perfect and delicate in a blue bikini. Nothing clicked. But there was the Genie, loud and abrasive, kind and daring. Comedic in a way that felt smart and important. Mystical and complex, tinged with a yearning for freedom that felt far more real than the princess' wish for "something more." I didn't understand, among other oddities, why as a little girl I fell in love with a blue, amorphous cloud of smoke. But I can see now that what I really loved was a rare and powerful magnetism that I'd never felt before and have rarely felt since. I loved the person behind the smoke. I loved Robin Williams. A man with the ability to play any role, no matter how silly, with such honesty, that it never felt vacant.
Two years ago my sister came to visit me in Boston. I think she was nine at the time, my friends and me in our early-twenties. We scrolled through Netflix and decided to watch Mrs. Doubtfire, as it fit a rare mold of being appealing to both her and us. By the final climax when Doubtfire's identity is on the verge of being revealed, my sister was crying. I remember telling her "No, it's funny. It's a funny movie. Everything is ok. It's supposed to be funny." But she was sitting on my lap and could barely watch the TV and there was no denying the reality of her sadness.
Looking back now, trying to figure out how one man's life had touched so many, how movies so funny could also feel so heavy, it seems obvious. His humor was laden with the massive weight of truth. It was never just laughter. His performances also spoke to the greater burden of the human condition. Whether he was playing a teacher, a doctor, or a clown with a vendetta, he was the real deal.
His legacy has spanned so long, it's hard not to feel like his art belongs to us. In a way it does. I remember watching Jack with my dad after my parents broke up. I remember laying in his bed and his big arms were wrapped around me and I remember feeling safe and loved. I remember feeling as delicate as the butterfly that Jack let divert his attention. Our memories, paired with the loss of his presence, has created a massive void. In losing Robin, we've all lost parts of ourselves. Circulating the internet, in an unfruitful attempt at regaining what we've lost, a single Robin quote keeps reappearing. "You only have one spark of madness, you must not lose it."
I think this idea has validity to it, but it also misses the greater point. That his genius sparked madness in all of us. We played Jumanji and went to Neverland. We greeted each other with his famous "Helllloooooooooo." We stood on desks, ripped pages from textbooks, and read poems in the stillness of night. We grew. And because of that, his spark can never be lost. Through us, it will live forever.