Robin Williams Tells A Story

Robin Williams Tells A Story

By Henry Rojas

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I’m Angry. I’m sad. I’m everything but the one thing that killed Robin Williams, depressed to the point of hopelessness.

 

Hope is a story that must be told.

 

In the words of the late Jesus Movement rocker Larry Norman, “When you know a pretty story you don’t let it go unsaid. You tell it to your children before you tuck them into bed.”

 

Did Robin hear the story? Was he like so many who dazzle others with words yet are tripped up and entangled by the words that consume the mind? Over analysis, sensitivity and hyper-awareness are not character flaws. Those who say they are often times buy the theater tickets to escape their own world, tasting the fruit that is produced from those so-called flaws.

 

Williams told a story linked desperately between film characters as though they were breadcrumbs so others could find him so he could find his true self. Instead we discovered our own selves.

 

An alien trying to fit in a foreign land. A father disguised as a nanny just to be near his children. An executive losing love tragically and escaping in a world of mental illness. A military DJ shouting hope to a broken hateful world. A wounded healer guiding another toward mutual discovery. His roles told a story.

 

 

As a spiritual director and clinician for over twenty years I’ve seen my share of mask wearing. Robin Williams, according to all interviews, was not wearing a mask. Though he brilliantly portrayed fictional characters they were not unlike him. They are not unlike you and I. That’s why we are moved by the stories. Somehow their pain journeyed toward climactic resolutions, a resolution Robin Williams never realized himself.

 

 

In an interview by Decca Aitkenhead she reflects:

 

“His bearing is intensely Zen and almost mournful, and when he’s not putting on voices he speaks in a low, tremulous baritone – as if on the verge of tears – that would work very well if he were delivering a funeral eulogy. He seems gentle and kind – even tender – but the overwhelming impression is one of sadness.”

 

He was open and authentic about his bouts with alcohol-induced shame and regret. He was vulnerable enough to enter treatment and speak about it publicly. He didn’t glamorize his treatment. He did not seek to capitalize on his alcoholism with books, testimonials or endorsements for anti-depressant drugs. He just went to treatment, AA meetings and hung on to hope.

 

Robin’s story has reached its climactic resolution. Here are the words of a dear pastor friend of mine who spoke at a memorial, for a good man who took his life. Following a stroke he battled with unrelenting depression. “When Cliff met Jesus I believe he must have greeted Cliff with open arms and a knowing smile and said, “Hi Cliff! You were in a lot of pain weren’t you?”

 

That’s the story we need to hear. The story of something greater than ourselves. Not the religious blame or self-righteous comments that he was selfish. The real Robin Williams and others like him are filled with the pain of self. But he was not selfish. He just didn’t get to play his true self in his own movie. We liked his pretend self so much we didn’t connect the dots. Even if some did, there was probably little they could do. They need not blame themselves. We as an audience however, must not stand idly by because there will be other mask wearers shouting through their humor, tears and occupations.

 

There is a new story. The story of a beautiful life ravaged by the awareness that life is hard. Legends who have gone before us say don’t call this a pathetic end to a successful life. If we conclude this we miss the point.

 

I spoke with a man today who said, “Henry, those who have not been there don’t get it. I have been depressed for many years. Once I was hospitalized for thirty days. I’ve had eleven therapists and been prescribed a myriad of anti-depressants and nothing helped. What really helps me manage the depression is recognizing when I’ve been alone too long I must get up get out and connect; then I’m better. Real connection is everything.”

 

That’s the problem with celebrity depression. Where does a public figure go for connection? When they do connect, can those connections be genuine and trusted? In performance mode a celebrity is in his or her own make believe world. When are they truly able to escape there world of make believe? The answer is it’s only when they are alone,the very place my friend says is most vulnerable and dangerous.

 

So Robin Williams I believe was telling a story. A story we should tell our children before we tuck them into bed. It is a story about identity. It says we are loved by our creator for who we are, not for what we do. The story gathers all those characters together and says to them I hear you and I see you. To all of those characters we can say you represent all of us. We are in this together and you no longer need to hide. Your pain may never leave, but you will no longer be alone in your pain and that makes it more manageable.

 

Here’s the story. There once was a man who was born into a world of actors and dead men walking. He blended in by becoming like one of them. He did it so brilliantly that all the people thought he was acting and was making fun. Actually what they didn’t know was that he was being serious. He was telling parables. He left this earth and they continued to glamorize his work and his success. They were sad and cried as the final curtain closed. But some listened. They discovered his meaning and lived more meaningful lives. Unmasking, loving and engaging with something greater than their ravaged self. Somewhere this man lives on.

 

If we think the legacy of Robin Williams is in the films and the characters instead of his true self and message, we perpetuate the tragedy. Listen to the hidden story and it will bring life. My guess is Robin Williams was a good man loved by God not for what he did or how he performed but for who he was, a man loved unconditionally even without the mask. If you get it, tell that story. I think he would want it that way.

 

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The Courage To Wait… For Sunday

Spiritual-Journey1-350x300GOOD FRIDAY

Today I am in darkness. Grief is slowly siphoning hope from yesterdays sunshine. We ate together and I guess I just didn’t see the gravity of it all. Today I have a choice in my moment of darkness. To believe the feeling of doom or the memory of hope. Many have scattered in fear and the same evil voice calls to me in the darkness. Where is he? Where is the power? Where are the miracles? Where is your Jesus?

I am taunted. The evidence of powerlessness surrounds me. I am tormented by the vision of your agony.

Little did I know I would feel this many times over in one lifetime. Family troubles, illness, death, job loss and heartache. It’s like Friday again and again. I doubt and I wrestle with the guilt of my desperation. I clench to disappointments and injustice.

But this time, in this moment.

I will wait.

My actions in the moment of darkness are usually my darkest actions.

I will wait.

In the cocoon of promised transformation –

I will wait.

Though it war against my visible odds –

I will wait.

May the memory of that ancient day and the knowledge of your coming resurrection cause me to wait all the more.

I will not create my own light. I will not pretend light into the moment with denial. No I will depend on the Light that was previously revealed. Though I don’t feel it now your words were clear.

I WILL wait.

For those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up as wings on eagles. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Let this memory of the darkness of Friday teach me Lord – To Wait

 

Magical Mystery Tunnel

The second half of this song is magnificent. In my soul I hear a transition from looking for others to be my magic to the magic in me, in creation and in the God who has his being.

I didn’t exactly see it coming. But when my body began to respond in discomfort and my mind was responding to my heart with fear and paranoia, I became aware of this place in my journey. I was in a tunnel. I still am in this tunnel. It’s not as though I can wish it away or even pray it away. Much like medications that relieve only the symptoms, we choose to wrestle, worry or flee from our dark moments, yet there are no options for an actual premature exit. It is a tunnel. When we don’t see how we entered we become shocked by the seemingly sudden dark moment we are in. Alone, cold and fearful we become emotionally paralyzed. We wonder what happened. We think we ought not be where we are.

Tunnels are not a destination. Though they are temporary dark places there is an eventual exit. It is a passage. A link between the here and now and what shall be. To the naked weariness of the soul it feels and looks like doom. To the spiritually aware it can become the passage through a mountainous transition. Though dark it is a shortened and smoother trip then the treacherous mountains we’ve been through before. We know how to prepare and cope for these long hikes. The paths are worn having repeated the same journey no matter how risky. This is different. It is only a tunnel. It is disconcerting and even frightful simply because it is different.

This morning I awoke and resisted the temptation to shrink into one of the three (wrestle, worry or flee) as I had the last few days. I made some peppermint tea. I sank into its warmth and refreshment and was tempted to think of what may or not come in my day. Either go back to bed or turn on the TV were my thoughts. Instead I put on my tennis shoes, tapped the Pandora app and began to walk in the coolness of the morning.

I felt a smile come to my face surprised by the last radio station I had played. I put my headphones on and put my iphone in my pocket. A most glorious version of a Sting song from the Symphonicities album began. My breathing became fuller as though I wanted the music in my lungs. Then the melodic melody waltzed with the outdoors around me. (I just walked by the way) I began to see without needing answers. The third eye they call it. Not just beholding beauty and not simply analyzing its origin, but gazing into the wonder of all that is in and around me. Sensing, knowing and understanding without an anxious aim to get relief from the present. Feelings became irrelevant to the truth of the Presence in the tunnel. It is temporary but necessary. Might as well enjoy the music.

So here’s what I heard. The she in this song is God to me this morning. It is the wonder of God that dazzles me. In my human state I hear this song and the romantic in me mourns. The loneliness and disappointments of lost love. In my physical state I feel aches and pains. But it is the awareness of God’s magic that enables me to see the wonder of it all.

Listening I see the magic. And the magic is not in a person or a thing it is in me just as the fear is not in the tunnel it is in me. I can choose to fear and mourn or gaze into the wonder of it all and experience the magic.

 

Website and Blog Launch!

Website and Blog Launch!

http://www.henryrojas.com

For twenty plus years I have had the pleasure of working as a pastor and counselor. I’ve also been a professional entertainer. To fuse all of them together on stage as a speaker or in one-to-one sessions as a spiritual director is where I’ve found my greatest satisfaction. Over the years I’ve discovered life-changing principles as I’ve worked with others. I have had the privilege of hearing countless individuals share their own life stories and challenges, inviting me to listen with them for wisdom and guidance. I’ve consulted with leaders of organizations who have needed a little encouragement to carry on their work with a new sense of value and purpose.

During my time as a director and a chaplain at Remuda Ranch, I journeyed with families and their loved ones battling life threatening eating disorders. In my own life I have been challenged to practice these same principles learned. I am not a guru and I have certainly not attained a place of supreme authority, but this I know – I am compelled to share what I have learned with anyone whose hope has faded, that they may discover the life they thought was only a dream.

One day long ago I woke up from a nightmare of the mundane. One day I woke up from a life built around what I thought I should believe and from circumstances I thought I was trapped in, with no visible hope of change. Performers like me can easily hide with no one ever knowing the heart. We mask it with the words I’m ok and we’ve determined never to burden others with the truth. After all, our job as entertainers was to make others happy. Maybe you too have learned that the stage is an illusion and the mask is an emotional facade. That day, I discovered that my misfortunes, poor choices and low self-image were not my identity. I was awakened to the reality that our mere existence is of great worth to the creator. Now many years since leaving “The Gorilla” image, I am returning to the stage with this website and promotion. I’m still a performer but now it is by choice not obligation. It’s unleashed and in a medium I enjoy most, public speaking rather than mask wearing.

I have been speaking for some time now, but never with full-time devotion. Most importantly it is comedy and drama through story telling and it’s with a purpose.

Here’s why I am so excited to launch this website. It is an opportunity to reach an audience of life skeptics who have lived in the shadows of performance. It is to promote The Gorilla story in all of its humor and drama, so that others will experience having a few holes poked in the lid of their jar and breathe again. It is for those who are worn down and disillusioned. For those who have relied on their own willpower in an attempt to rid themselves of destructive behaviors. It’s for those who need to discover the principles that can lead them to new work and relationships. It is for people like me who have found legalistic religious teachings to be life robbing instead of life giving as intended. To develop a faith that is authentic and affirms humanity. I believe we are called to a life of soaring optimism, embracing the truth of our identity and never settling for anything less then a life of transformation. A discovery that we are stronger then the bars that have held us captive.  It is a metamorphosis, shedding the cocoon of a label, an unhealthy relationship, life-altering addictions or oppressive spiritual and emotional self-hatred.

There is a way out. There is a way that puts your worst debilitating nightmare in the past and embraces the life your soul has longed for. A way out of the emotional confinement you thought was home, but in reality was the false identity that held you captive. The message is this. You are not a doctor, accountant, teacher, student, athlete or gorilla. You are certainly not an eating disorder, diagnosis or disability. That is not who you are. It may be what you do or what circumstances you’re in but it is not who you are. You are loved nakedly without your title, label or mask! There is a life to be discovered when we unmask. I know because I’ve experienced it and that is why these principles are so unique in presentation.

In the next few weeks I will begin publicly promoting the Henry Rojas website and blog. It will coincide with a soon to air documentary ESPN has begun filming about The Gorilla. Please help me share this message with others by visiting and “liking” the website following the blog. Suggest it to others! I would like it very much if I knew I had a whole army of family and friends walking with me in this effort to use the gorilla story and my learned principles of living, to make an impact on those just like you and me who are ready to really, really live regardless of circumstances and perceived limitations.

www.henryrojas.com

Love you all,

Henry

Behind The Mask – The Me That No One Sees

“I am not a man, and I am not a beast. I am as shapely as the man on the moon”

– Quasimodo, The Hunchback of Notre Dame

I’ll never forget sitting with my big brother watching the movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. As a boy, the movie touched my young heart in ways I did not understand until adulthood. You see those words that Quasimodo spoke to the beautiful women who cared for him could have been spoken by me. I’ll bet they could be spoken by you as well.

Growing up I thought I had a big head, was too dark, too fat and was embarrassed when someone said I had big lips. The meaning to me was that my lips were over-sized and might eventually suffocate me. Bottom line, I thought I was wrong, abnormal, unattractive and unlikely to succeed in life even if I did try. Nevertheless, I learned to perform. Developing the traits others complimented me on. Apparently I was funny and entertaining. I could dance better than the rest and I had a good personality. That’s what others said anyway so I became that.

Masking what I felt inside became an art and a skill.

In high school no one knew if I liked a girl and certainly the girl would never find out from me! You see I could entertain them and make them laugh even dance with them. But I would never put myself in a position to hear the words that might penetrate my self-protecting performance. Words that say you’re not good enough. Words that might confirm my greatest fears and misconceptions. That I was not a man. I was a hideous beast. That is unless I wore the mask of kindness, accommodation and entertainment.

Fast forward to my becoming an NBA mascot. The mask of performance I developed became a real mask. It was not by my own doing as I would never have auditioned for such a job. Do you honestly think someone who was concerned about self-image would ever wear a costume? There no way I would ever have risked public ridicule by wearing a costume. For me it just happened. It was part accident and part miraculous. The Gorilla’s story is told in other places so suffice it to say, “all things work together.”

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So here I was, a professional mask wearer. Others invested in my masquerade. The popularity of this new persona was birthed from a lifelong love of dance, comedy, basketball and self-protection. The man inside remained anonymous. Just like I was growing up. Yet the new persona had power. I could demand instead of request. I could initiate instead of wait. (I’ve worked with a lot of athletes, celebs and business people who understand this) The power however, did not satisfy the inner desire for connection and a sense of belonging. It did not produce the naked confidence that says I am valuable even without the mask of performance or self-protection.

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I walked away. In the middle of a six-figure income and popularity. I walked away. It was for me the most courageous thing I have ever done. In the face of many saying we love The Gorilla , you can’t just walk away from it! When I did this I was also walking away from the young man who lived in self-protection. The invisible mask of pride and social performance was about to be peeled back. It didn’t happen all at once. As a matter of fact it is an incredible journey of authentic living that finds meaning in every moment. Where my eyes are open and my breaths are full. You see it’s hard to breathe with a mask. Whether real or invisible and I wore them both, it is hard to breathe.

Now I invite you and others to journey with me, unveiling what lies beneath the imaginary beast. The beast of self-consciousness which inhibits our personality. The beast of arrogance which grows from pride. The beast of shame which prevents connectedness and intimacy. Unmasking reveals a new life being valued nakedly without the mask of performance and self-protection.. A journey where life is lived to its fullest and self-deprecating lies are put to rest. Where performance is intentional and soulful but kept in perspective. Performance is a spectacular gift and skill. A dramatic role played out for the enjoyment of our self and others. It is a fantastic display of human expression and accomplishment. Nevertheless it should never define who we are. We are not pro athletes, doctors, executives, housewives or the homeless. My friends you are not an addict or a diagnosis! We were created with incredible intrinsic worth. A value greater than the imagination and loved nakedly without our masks! Unveil, breathe and feel free to live.