A famous entertainer once said, “You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” It may take a degree of madness to be a public personality like an actor, comedian, singer, or other such out-in-front character. Every time you perform you put yourself out there to be evaluated, judged, and written about.
We’d think that since it happens so often entertainers are probably used to the public scrutiny and even develop some hardness to the negative reviews they occasionally get. That is true in some cases, but not all.
Ernest Hemingway is regarded by many as the greatest writer of the 20th century. Among his published works are Death in the Afternoon, The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, To Have and Have Not, Big-Two Hearted River, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Torrents of Spring, Islands in the Stream and much more. With this many books to his credit you know Hemingway came under the critic’s pen many times, and you know he had to be used to it, no matter how unfair and caustic the comments might sometimes be. But, apparently that wasn’t so. Hemingway wrote, “That terrible mood of depression of whether it’s any good or not is known as the artist’s reward.” When Hemingway’s Across the River and Into the Trees received a negative review in 1950, Hemingway was apparently “emotionally wounded.” New York Times Columnist Timothy Egan wrote of Hemingway’s emotional hurt: “Creativity has its own land mines.”
The land mines of creativity are that the artist must continue to be creative, over and over and over and over again. There is no let up, no break. The adoring public wants more ink, more laughter, more music from the stars. And the stars must produce, and it must be as good as the previous performances, or the critic section will shift into high-gear.
The same entertainer I quoted earlier as saying, “You’re only given one little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it,” also said, “You bottom out. People say, ‘You have an Academy Award.’ The Academy Award lasted about a week, then one week later people are going, ‘Hey, Mork’” (Timothy Egan, “Robin Williams, the Vulnerable Showman,” NYT, Aug 14, 2014). In other words, “You made us laugh last week. You made us laugh tonight. But what new stuff do you have for tomorrow?”
With my last quote from the famous figure some of you probably recognize the entertainer I am speaking about is Robin Williams. I was as shocked as everyone else when I read about his death. And I grieved when I read the cause.
I was not surprised that immediately articles and blogposts began to appear discussing suicide, its causes, and its aftermath. “Can Robin go to heaven?” some writers asked and answered. With a confidence I can not seem to find on the subject, some answered, “No,” others answered, “Yes.”
Suicide is an intensely sensitive and emotional issue. I’ve sat with friends who wept over the self-imposed death of one of their loved ones. They not only missed the person who just took their own life, they were filled with those questions we all pray we never have to ask: Why? Could we have done something to prevent it? Where is he or she now? Can you be forgiven of suicide? My answers are, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.” And for the last one, “I sure hope so.”
Right now, I must admit I am thinking more about Robin than some of the other issues. Robin, the funny man, one of the funniest in the public eye. I didn’t like all his humor, no, but some of it I did. And I always marveled at his quickness. He was fast!
I think about a story of Robin sitting in a dressing room after a performance in Seattle. “You were great,” someone told him. “Really,” Robin asked? “Did you really like it?” The visitor later said Robin was like a schoolboy hungry for a pat of approval on the head (Timothy Egan). I wish one of us could have said to him in a way he could have felt it, “Yes Robin, you were that good.”
I hope all of us has someone saying that to us. And I hope all of us are saying it to someone else. You are that good.
Today, we will speak words of life into someone’s heart, and give them hope to hang on, with God’s power in their lives.