A ‘little spark of madness’

By Mike Murphy

Robin Williams quipped that “Reality is just a crutch for people who can’t cope with drugs.” It was fairly well known that he did cope with alcohol abuse for a long time before seeking professional help which possibly served as his temporary dose of reality.
Eventually though it appears that the alcohol combined with drugs, depression and disease, in his case Parkinson’s, got the best of him. So he took matters into his own hands and ended his life.
Personally, I could never develop a dependence on drugs since every prescription bottle that I purchase has a “Do not use if seal is broken” warning on it, so immediately after I break open the lid, I dump the contents into the garbage can.
Before all else, we all certainly agree that suicide is a very sensitive subject. Its ramifications are particularly felt in Idaho which has one of the highest rates in the nation amongst its young people. That being said the history of suicide does lend itself to some interesting observations.
Believe it or not, suicide was around even long before people were subjected to daily Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus photos, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck monetary-inspired political rants, and televised golf.
The Stoics of ancient Greece, such as Plato and Aristotle, taught that suicide was acceptable in certain situations or when “god gives the sign for an individual’s departure.” This begs the question as to the nature of the sign: was it a clap of thunder, a pigeon pooping on one’s head, or a young man cursed with a name like Homer. And which god are they referring to: one naturally reliable such as Apollo, god of truth, or Hermes, god of agreements and contracts, sort of a not-to-be trusted corporate lawyer god?
Later, the ancient Romans had no problem with what might be termed “patriotic suicide.. They believed that it was more honorable to take one’s life than to be taken prisoner and humiliated in the hands of the enemy. And they most likely would have fully endorsed the suicide of the Roman emperor Caligula, described by one source as “an insane emperor who was self-absorbed, angry, killed on a whim, and indulged in too much spending and sex.. Sort of sounds like roll call for a number of past U.S. presidents.
In fact, it goes on to say that Caligula was so cuckoo that “he sent troops on illogical military exercises” which sounds a lot like a former president named George whose picture is not on the one-dollar bill.
Occasionally, monks devoted to the teachings of Buddha have practiced self-immolation as a form of protest. They are not to be confused with the followers of the Chinese philosopher Confucius who famously said, “Man who stand on toilet is high on pot.”
Of course, various religions have developed their own stance on the topic. For example, the Christian church excommunicated those who attempted suicide, a form of punishment which seems somewhat anti-climatic.
The Bible does not specifically state that suicide will bar one from eternal salvation. However, Christians interpret various Biblical statements as clear implications that it is a grave sin. And how can one argue with the Bible since it was written by people who did not actually experience any of the incidents described in it and did not have access to any reliable sources of information, not even Wikipedia, unless, of course, Matthew had miraculously acquired a Smartphone.
There are only six references to some form of suicide in the Bible which is understandable since life back then was so simple as to be pretty much free of stress. Keeping one’s goats from mingling with the neighbors’ was about the only source of anxiety.
In fact, Noah, a guy chosen to deal with some fairly intense pressure, could still live over 900 years, a fact which contributed mightily to our present-day Social Security growing deficit. Even after devoting 120 years to building the Ark, Noah still had hundreds of years left to enjoy the senior discount at the Seven Loaves and Fishes Buffet.
One famous Biblical reference to a man who sacrificed his life for moral reasons was Samson. Samson had been given supernatural strength by God to do good deeds, but his two weaknesses were women and his hair, sort of like most of the guys placing personal ads on Craigslist. In the end, Samson knocked down the temple pillars killing himself and thousands of Philistines which was the origin of the expression “bring down the house.”
So Robin Williams, the man with “the little spark of madness,” is gone. Perhaps an appropriate epitaph for his gravestone would be this line that comes from his film Mrs. Doubtfire: “It was the drink that killed him. … he was hit by a Guinness truck.”

Mike Murphy of Pocatello retired after a 35-year teaching and coaching career. He has a master’s degree in English from the University of Nebraska and is an Associated Press award-winning columnist.