Remembering Robin Williams and Paint Flowers

In a world so focused on what tomorrow may bring, it’s easy to forget that the one, singular moment we have now– and that’s all we’re guaranteed– is fleeting. When such news strikes such as yesterday’s announcement of Robin Williams’ apparent suicide, we’re suddenly reminded of life’s temporary, all-too-quickly-vanishing state.

That reminder sucks. We shouldn’t need a reminder, really, but it’s so easy to get caught up in our own lives and our own issues that we sometimes toss life’s fleeting reality to the wayside. It shouldn’t take a jolt like yesterday’s to encourage us to scramble after that tossed-away realization, but all we can do is try our best to retrieve and hold it close– just as we hold close our loved ones.

I wanted to post something on Junkies Nation yesterday after the news, but I couldn’t find the words at the time. There are simply no words sometimes, and yeah, I realize that’s a bit of an odd statement coming from someone who has all kinds of 1500-word editorials up her sleeves. Robin Williams was a pretty big part of my childhood thanks to the myriad of movies he was in that I couldn’t help but adore. I know I’m not alone with that sentiment.

My favorite movie of his might be What Dreams May Come. Its subject matter is well, a little difficult to think about today, I must admit, but there’s an image that sticks with me this morning:

robin williams and paint flowers insert

Here’s a short video of the scene if you’re not familiar with it. Robin Williams awakens to find himself in this huge field of flowers made out of paint. Shortly after, he reaches out and gleefully grabs a flower only to feel it squish between his fingers. A family dog he once had then leaps through the paint flowers and the two share a paint-filled moment of hugs and romping.

That paint flower scene was always one of my favorite. Maybe because it seemed so ridiculous, yet also so wonderfully fantastical. A whole world made of paint. How weird would that be? Yet also friggen’ awesome, right? The combination fascinated me as a teenager, and still does. Artsy stuff in a pure fantasy world? I am in.

Here’s the thing– What Dreams May Come wasn’t a perfect movie, no, but it was one thing– it was creative. It showcased creativity in a fleeting light– not all too unlike its primary focus, of course, which is that of the fleeting nature of life. There’s a gorgeous line drawn there. Without life, there can be no creativity. Without creativity, there can be no life. We see evidence of this in the film’s darker scenes between Williams’ character and his wife.

Life itself may be fleeting, as is creativity (I often say creativity strikes like a belated hurricane– here one minute and gone the next), but both have lasting imprints. Life gives us precious memories. Creativity gives us art. Music. Movies. Stories. Games. Beloved characters.

While we find ourselves in a world missing one of our most creative and comic geniuses this morning, we have our memories of the movies we’ve enjoyed and the lives Robin Williams touched. We have the memory of him acting like a good-natured doofus in Mrs. Doubtfire, a lawyer-turned-magical-boy in Hook, and a sagely advice-giver in Good Will Hunting. We have his art, his legacy.

We also have our lives and our legacies before us– fleeting as they might be. If there’s anything we should take from yesterday’s tragedy it should be the fact that we ought to live our lives fully, take advantage of life’s fleeting state, hold close and care about those we love, and to never stop creating, believing in the dream, and reaching out and squishing those paint flowers between our fingers. Life’s too fleeting to not leap through the paint-covered mess.


“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”
Robin Williams – Dead Poet’s Society

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