The Spaces Between: A Reflection on Robin Williams

Yesterday, as I pulled up to a stoplight, I heard the news that Robin Williams had died. Along with so many others, my heart broke.

Memories of Williams’ performances flashed through my mind. His lightning fast delivery, ability to conjure characters, weave together news, social commentary, and wit, with joy and unfettered play, was one-of-a-kind. There seemed to be few spaces between the rapid-fire ribbon of comedic genius he let fly at the slightest prompt, like an improv with an audience member’s scarf on Inside the Actor’s Studio.

Williams’ riffs left me doubled over in laughter and in awe. Like all of us, were we to pull back the curtain on his life, there are spaces and places that were tender, ill, broken, imperfect. Yet, it’s easy to see each other as what’s most visible, most talked about—our “daily performances” in life.

Sometimes we miss those tender places in each other. They may go unspoken. They are the places that need a moment to surface, do best in soft light, don’t want to take center stage, but appreciate a compassionate presence, one that will allow silence to fall like a gentle rain. Here in the United States, we live in a culture that doesn’t value those silences, those spaces in between. Instead, we fill them up. To me, it is the pause, the rest, the few beats in a conversation that let me take in, assimilate, or let rise whatever it is that needs to come into presence.

We need those spaces to allow each other to fully inhabit, experience, and be who we are--and to heal. Behind our cursory greetings or newsy conversations are the spaces where we live, where we try to integrate all the pieces of ourselves, our joy with our pain, and our achievements with our brokenness.

Robin Williams’ brilliant performances also gave us space—to laugh at and examine ourselves and, as many artists do, to help us understand ourselves and each other a bit better. 

As I was finishing writing this, an artist friend who is living with metastatic cancer and navigating many losses, called to reschedule our dinner tonight. I look forward to being with her, to listening, and to letting some silence fall between us like a gentle rain, here, where we’ve had an unusually warm summer. 

Roselle Kovitz, a member of Fetzer’s social media team, is a writer and communication consultant who lives in Seattle.