Two years ago this week, the world lost an extraordinary individual.
This was a tribute:
A coach and I used to sit on a bench, at a primary school, watching schoolboy matches, shooting the breeze, discussing parenting and life.
Very swiftly, we would find answers to most of the world’s problems.
And that was just during the first half. One of the great follies we identified was the worship of celebrity – how sad that so many see “famous people” as role models.
Like sportsmen. How it’s become “normal”, bizarrely, to assume that because someone can smack a cricket ball a mile, he should be looked up to, as someone of admirable personal values.
So kids grow up ignoring the superb values of so many, right in front of their eyes, and instead worship “KP” or Luis Suarez.
Equally foolish is worshipping singers or actors, clearly.
And yet, there are exceptions. Or perhaps it’s just that one actor, whose surname I share, just found a route directly to my heart.
Maybe that’s because two roles Robin Williams played, when I was a kid, represented just about everything wonderful in this world.
The two films are: Dead Poets Society and Hook – the story of Peter Pan.
In the first, in which Williams plays teacher John Keating, one of the finest quotes is: “Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? Carpe, carpe diem. Seize the day, boys, make your lives extraordinary!”
And, quoting Henry David Thoreau: “I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.”
Keating: “Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said: ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!”
In this role alone, Williams inspired a generation of teachers and future teachers, who saw the extraordinary impact that they, too, could make in the classroom, and thus upon the world.
The second film provided another seminal moment. Wil-liams, as Peter Pan, sat with his Lost Boys, around a dining table, which was entirely bare. And yet he was able to conjure up in their minds, and thus on the table in front of them, a magnificent feast.
This incredible gift is called “wonder”. Wonder! – with an exclamation mark. The world of wonder – one of childhood’s most precious elixirs.
As a child, I was extremely blessed to have been given both these staggeringly important gifts at my primary school, which my own children now attend.
When I’m there, the memories come flooding back – of a world in which we “seized the day!” and were wrapped in the delights of “wonder!” – as the kids there still are.
If you can taste these two joys as a child, you’ll have them for life.
In this line of work, as a journo, you don’t get star-struck too easily. Precisely the opposite. But had Robin Williams ever walked into the room, I would have been felled.
Or, more aptly, I would have climbed up on the nearest desk, and cried out: “Oh captain, my captain!”
Yes, I know you were only an actor. But if only you could have heard your own words of inspiration, which gave so many of us our life’s foundations. Such purpose, such power.
Oh captain, oh my captain. Goodbye.