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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The "Sad Lightning" of Robin Williams

by Steven P. Velasquez
August 13, 2014

Little B and I visited my parents today. My mother uses me for two things usually, to create and transport grandchildren to her home, and to fix all the technical issues in said home. Today I had to re-direct her Facebook account to her new email address and connect a DVD player to her new HD TV. Her fascination with her oldest son faded many years ago and has transformed to a relationship of utility.

Abuela, a septuagenarian from Puerto Rico, sat in her rocker, gently rocking to and fro, while Little B watched "Mama Mia" on the newly connected DVD player. The afternoon air filled with conversation about current events, a custom born of retirements' boredom. The sadness of the passing of actor Robin Williams dominated the conversation and was only temporarily sidelined to allow for discussion of yesterday's passing of actress, Lauren Bacall.

Robin Williams as Dr. Hunter
"Patch" Adams

Abuela asked me if I had ever heard of or read the Spanish poem "Reir Llorando" by Juan de Dios Pesa. My reply, of course, was "no," as I have never immersed myself into anything other than English literature. She began reciting phrases from this poem, as if fresh in her memory. Who knew these were thoughts unveiled from the mind of a 13 year old, now 78?

She began to explain how she felt the words of this poem from her childhood, applied directly to the modern day "Garrid," Robin Williams.

Curious, I hit Google and found a version of the poem and nearly sprained my brain reading it. The poem is written in a very formal, Castilian version of Spanish
which really eludes my grasp. We made our best attempt to translate it and make it meaningful. I must admit, I was quite impressed with how much of it I did, in fact, understand. Its' beauty - exposed, its power - felt deep in my gut, and I found myself awkwardly (and rarely) agreeing with my mother completely. This poem was the story of Robin Williams - to a fault.

The link to the Spanish version is listed above. I also searched for a translation to English and found this in a Yahoo Answers forum. Ironically, it was only posted yesterday by "Carmenzmb" and she too agreed this was Robin's story.

**Note - Garrid (Sp) and Garrik (Eng) are interchangeable**

To Laugh While Crying (Reir Llorando)

Watching Garrik – an actor from England -
the people would say applauding:
“You are the funniest one on earth
and the happiest one…”
And the comedian would laugh.

Victims of melancholy, the highest lords,
during their darkest and heaviest nights
would go see the king of actors
and change their melancholy into roars of laughter.

Once, before a famous doctor, came a man with eyes so somber:
“I suffer – he said -, an illness so horrible
as this paleness of my face”

“Nothing holds any enchantment or attractiveness;
I don’t care about my name or my fate
I die living an eternal melancholy
and my only hope is that of death”.

- Travel and distract yourself
- I’ve traveled so much!

- Search for readings
- I’ve read so much!

- Have a woman love you
- But I am loved

- Get a title
- I was born a noble

- Might you be poor?
- I have riches

- Do you like compliments?
- I hear so many!

- What do you have as a family?
- My sadness

- Do you go to the cemeteries?
- Often, very often.

- Of your current life, do you have witnesses?
- Yes, but I don’t let them impose their burdens;
I call the dead my friends;
I call the living my executioners.

- It leaves me – added the doctor – perplexed
your illness and I must not scare you;

Take today this advice as a prescription
only watching Garrik can you be cured.


-Yes, Garrik… The most indolent
and austere society anxiously seeks him;
everyone who sees him, dies of laughter;
he has an amazing artistic grace.

- And me? Will he make me laugh?
-Ah, yes, I swear it;
he and no one but him; but… what disturbs you?

-So – said the patient – I won’t be cured;
I am Garrik! Change my prescription.

How many are there who, tired of life,
ill with pain, dead with tedium,
make others laugh as the suicidal actor,
without finding a remedy for their illness?

Oh! How often do we cry while laughing!
Nobody should trust the merriment of laughter,
because in those beings devoured by pain,
the soul groans while the face laughs!

If faith dies, if calm flees,
if our feet only step on thistles,
the tempest of the soul hurls to our face,
a sad lightning: a smile.

The carnival of the world is such a trickster,
that life is but a short masquerade;
here we learn to laugh with tears
and also to cry with laughter.

Dear Robin, I did not know you, but I grew with you in my life. You entertained my family and I with laughter to the point of tears. 

Thank you for your art and your life's work. 

May God keep you forever more.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Steven! I'm Carmen's sister. Thank you for posting this. My grandma and my mom, both love the poem and know it by memory just like your grandma! It is so Robin. I pray he is at peace now.