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Robin Williams, RIP

Shazbot! Suicide is not a shame, not a crime, and not a sin.

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, August 13, 2014.

A suicide somehow brings out the worst in other people. Robin Williams, whose connection to Boulder might be termed fragile, hung himself a few days back. Because he became famous by a television show notionally set in Boulder, people gathered at the border fence of the house his character supposedly lived in 36 years ago and set up a small shrine. That had to be somewhat of an issue with the poor folks living within, but it did not get too overboard and was so good-hearted and genuinely innocent that all was taken with the spirit intended. Or, at least, I've not heard otherwise. Williams was a major star and no doubt people felt connected when, let's be honest, they weren't.

If that were the worst response to somebody taking their own life, we'd have reason to feel good about ourselves and fellow man. But, of course it was not.

People reached into their tack rooms for various grades of saddle to throw over the Williams corpse to ride a cause into public. Rush Limbaugh, I read, suggested it was Williams' left wing politics and way of thinking that led him choosing to choke to death. Others noticed that Williams and a woman had agreed long ago to abort a child rather than bring an unwanted being into the world, and so suggested that supposed guilt about abortion was what drove him to suicide. Williams was also an alcoholic and a drug enthusiast at various times in the past. He had done cocaine with John Belushi the night that comic died in the early 1980's. He'd never denied this, and he'd been in and out of rehab all his life. And so, assumptions are made. So easy.

I have zero clue why Williams ended it, or why anyone else ends it. There are ways to kill yourself that are sure, non-violent, and if not exactly quick, with much reason to imagine painless. Hanging has been viewed as punishment for centuries, and it's also been a common way to suicide. Beyond ease in obtaining items needed, there may be no other connection, but it's easy to think the victim chose death in that manner to punish themselves. It's especially easy to think so when so many other methods abound about, as surely they did with Williams. But hanging can be gruesomely slow or instant, if the neck is snapped as the body drops, as with Saddam. But the authorities have ruled asphyxiation.

Suicide has always been a more common form of death than statistics suggest. It's becoming more and more common, and as such is an insult to - and a slap against - established religions. People with a terminal disease, especially if they've seen the last days of others in the same boat, may not want to put their family through it, and end it quickly by a friend providing the pills. To some, that's cowardice, a failure to see life, a gift, through to the end, and so an affront to God. To others, it is compassionate love for family and its finances, along with an opinion that cancer is not the gift of a compassionate deity.

There is, of course, a constricting gray area between assisted suicide and murder most foul. Beyond a certain point, a dying person's mind is a hysterical miasma of conflicting emotions and intent, and you cannot really tell what someone at the head of the line at Charon's Styx River Crossing and Dinner Cruise really wants, and they don't know either. And family or friend allows a procedure to end the life with plausible deniability King George V was nudged by his doctors into death so that the new King, the current Queen's father, could be announced in the papers at a more opportune time. So in the House of Windsor, so everywhere.

Sometimes, I expect, age and decline are not a preferred neighborhood of residence, and one day action based upon impulse nurtured by reason turns the ignition key off, and responsibly so. It is neither cowardice nor a failure, but a natural desire to exist no longer. Among those whose candle burns at both ends and who have wrung every possible laugh out of their lives for the enjoyment of others, the very thought to doing so one more time may be too much. I can see that, but cannot know.

So, just this: Robin Williams gave a lot of enjoyment to a lot of people. We owe him civility and thanks.