In a world in which hundreds of Palestinian children are being killed, thousands of Yazidi and Christian people in Iraq are being driven out of their homes and into areas in which survival is nearly impossible, and the death toll from the ebola virus is nearing 1,000 with no signs of imminent containment, perhaps it is trivial to mourn the loss of one man.
And yet I keep coming back to the idea Madeleine L’Engle expresses so beautifully in this passage from A Wrinkle in Time, in which the children are being told that they are fighting against evil itself, against the powers of darkness:
“And we’re not alone, you know, children,” came Mrs Whatsit, the comforter. “All through the universe it’s being fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it’s a grand and exciting battle. I know it’s hard for you to understand about size, how there’s very little difference in the size of the tiniest microbe and the greatest galaxy. You think about that, and maybe it won’t seem strange to you that some of our very best fighters have come right from your own planet, and it’s a little planet, dears, out on the edge of a little galaxy. You can be proud that it’s done so well.”
“Who have our fighters been?” Calvin asked.
“Oh, you must know them dear,” Mrs Whatsit said.
“Mrs Who’s spectacles shone out at them triumphantly, “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
“Jesus!” Charles Wallace said. “Why of course, Jesus!”
“Of course!” Mrs Whatsit said. “Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They’ve been lights for us to see by.”
“Leonardo da Vinci?” Calvin suggested tentatively. “And Michelangelo?”
“And Shakespeare,” Charles Wallace called out, “and Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!”
I can’t help but feel that the world has lost a great light today. Robin Williams represented, for us, a doctor who heals with humor, a teacher who inspires his students to seize the day, a brilliant therapist, a dad so desperate for time with his kids that he’d pretend to be an old female housekeeper, and so much more. He had an unrivaled ability to bring humor without superficiality, and for those of us in my generation, he has been part of our lives since childhood.
I believe we’ve lost a light, and so I mourn for him and for all the lights in Palestine and Iraq and West Africa, whose lives are being snuffed out before we even have a chance to see them.
And I commit to trying to do what I can to be a light, however small my sphere of influence.