Seize the Day.

bf07db6e45549504e8e6fb34bd80ba64I was sitting in the theatre today watching the (fairly) new film Richard Linklater film, Boyhood. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend carving out 3 hours for it. I generally hate movies over 90 minutes solely on principle, but I did love this one. As you can guess, you feel like you’re watching 12 years pass because you are. I think a lot about the passage of time anyway, but I kept watching Ethan Hawke, wondering what happened to that floppy haired boy from Dead Poets Society, the one I loved so much. I mean, I like the grown up version fine, but I’ll take Dead Poets Society and Dad versions of Ethan Hawke any day. (I think we are close enough in age that that doesn’t sound too creepy. I hope.)

Back to Boyhood, though. It’s beautiful, I laughed a few times and wept exponentially more times. My drive home was melancholic, I stopped at Trader Joe’s on the way to pick up groceries. I made the mistake of getting behind a woman who had much more in her basket than I thought and I kept thinking, how is it that, no matter what, I always pick the wrong line at the grocery store? I pulled out my phone to check my Facebook, the first thing I read was my friend Alan asking if Robin Williams’ death was a hoax or not. The first I’d heard of it, I scrolled through my news feed and quickly deduced that it was not a hoax.

Ten minutes later, the woman in front of me walked away with her seven bags in her cart. As she was leaving she complained to the manager that her bag had ripped because the cashier had overstuffed the reusable bag. She told the manager this as the sweet cashier was giving her a free replacement. When the cashier turned to me, she gave the slightest of eye rolls. “I know,” I offered in commiseration. And I stood there wanting to connect with her, to tell this 20-something multi-pierced zaftig hipster that I felt her pain. “Did you hear that Robin Williams died?”

“Wait. What? When?”

“I just read it on Facebook.”

“Oh no, that just ruins my day. He was like, my childhood. The Genie…Do they know how he died?”

Because I did not want to make her day worse, I didn’t tell her I’d already read that it was a presumed suicide. “I don’t know.”

“I know he had some health problems,” she innocently offered.

“It’s really sad,” I said.

“They say it’s a suicide,” the guy behind me, phone in hand, offered. Better for you to tell her than me, I thought. From the look on her face when I first told her, I seriously thought she might have been related to him.

“This is so sad,” she said. We all agreed. She asked if I needed validation, I told her I did, she validated my parking and the three of us said goodbye as I walked away, headed for my car.

I thought about The Fisher King and Dead Poets Society as I drove home, pondered how one could probably not have played those roles if one did not understand something about sadness. There was always something sad behind the twinkle of those eyes.

I do not remember when my Facebook feed has been so filled with people telling their just passed celebrity stories. This feels different from Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Michael Jackson or Whitney Houston, not worse, necessarily, but different. I can’t in this moment put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with the nurturing teacher he played in Dead Poets Society, a movie that I remember watching over and over again when I was a budding youth minister. When I was a youth minister, I made my kids watch the movie, I seem to remember making them all stand on their chairs and shout, “O Captain, my captain.” I did and do want them to carpe diem, to seize the day.

When I was watching Boyhood today, I thought about all the big ideas I had when I was the age of the films protagonist. Now my wishes are so much simpler: family, friends, pets, enough money, a little travel, a really good book, the chance to explore some layer of my creativity, joy.

For the most part, I do understand that Robin Williams was not Garp or Mork or Mrs. Doubtfire or John Keating, but there was something of him, undoubtedly, in every character he played. Maybe the manner in which he died will forever color or carry a tenderness to the way we remember him, I don’t know.

Tonight, I watched YouTube clips from Dead Poets Society. I started to post the one where John Keating tells his students to make their lives extraordinary, a sermon of sorts. Then I watched the clip of the end, where all the students stand on their chairs, saying farewell with final “O Captain, my captains.” But then I found this, the one I’ve posted, the scene where Ethan’s Todd Anderson makes his first connection to what he’s been studying and what he has stewing within him. And Robin Williams is at his best, his sad eyes twinkling with pride that his student finally sees something in himself that he’d seen all along. Maybe this is so sad for us because he had this something special, this rare grace that enabled him to reach through the celluloid and place his furry hand on our own sweaty, pimply foreheads and persist and cajole and encourage until we realized that we, too, all of us, were poets as well.

I Look to You

Whitney Houston I LOOK TO YOUI thought about Whitney Houston a lot this month.  I remember the day she died quite vividly.  February 11, 2012.  I was on my computer that Saturday afternoon and the news popped up on Yahoo.  I had been at work, just a few blocks away from the Beverly Hilton when she died.  I do not know of a celebrity death that has affected me more.  I loved Whitney Houston.

Her music was part of the soundtrack of my formative years,. I remember watching MTV in hopes that they’d play the How Will I Know video and then dancing to it, alone in my room. There was also something about her story that resonated with me: she was a church girl. She grew up in the church and sang in the church and talked about her faith in interviews.

Not surprisingly, she was a polarizing topic at my Bible college. Her albums had songs about faith sandwiched between songs about infidelity or sexual longing. I remember belting out I Wanna Dance with Somebody in my ’79 Monte Carlo on those long drives from Joplin to Independence to visit my parents.

Like many of our first loves, somewhere along the way, I lost track of Whitney. I saw The Bodyguard, of course and had a boyfriend give me a cd single of I Believe in You and Me. (As it turned out, he did not.) But somewhere between 1991 and 2012, I stopped buying Whitney’s music.

And then she died. And I started listening to her all over again. I bought the greatest hits collection on iTunes and I found this song that she released shortly before her death.

As a chubby, awkward, gay boy growing up in Kansas, I would stare at the picture of Whitney on the cover of her first album and think, “She’s just so pretty!” And then, after her passing, I found myself staring at the cover of her last album, I Look to You in a similar way. She was still so beautiful, of course, but her face gave some indication of the struggles that she had endured, the struggles that she had seemingly overcome.
whitney-houston-album
Whitney Houston had her demons. She had this voice and face and look that was a gift from God, but there were things that she struggled with. And as much as I loved her because of her beauty, I think I understood her because of her weaknesses. I have demons myself. Some you know about, others I hope you never know about.

I love this video. As someone who grew up in church, it’s a plea from the broken to a merciful God. At the end of the day, whether we are Grammy winners or restaurant hosts, we all need a little help. So, if you have a few minutes, have a watch and listen. And don’t be too judgmental about your own brokenness, because at the end of the day, we are all the same: the lost looking for a cause, the weak looking for strength and the melody-less looking for a song.