Robin’s Last Gift – Peter Coyote

“Robin and I were friends. Not intimate, because he was very shy when he was not performing. Still, I spent many birthdays and holidays at his home with Marsha and the children, and he showed up at my 70th birthday to say “Hello” and wound up mesmerizing my relatives with a fifteen-minute set that pulverized the audience.

When I heard that he had died, I put my own sorrow aside for a later time. I’m a Zen Buddhist priest and my vows instruct me to try to help others. So this little letter is meant in that spirit.

Normally when you are gifted with a huge talent of some kind, it’s like having a magnificent bicep. People will say, “Wow, that’s fantastic” and they tell you, truthfully, that it can change your life, take you to unimaginable realms. It can and often does. The Zen perspective is a little different. We might say, “Well, that’s a great bicep, you don’t have to do anything to it. Let’s work at bringing the rest of your body up to that level.”

Robin’s gift could be likened to the fastest thoroughbred race-horse on earth. It had unbeatable endurance, nimbleness, and a huge heart. However, it had never been fully trained. Sometimes Robin would ride it like a kayaker tearing down white-water, skimming on the edge of control. We would marvel at his courage, his daring, and his brilliance. But at other times, the horse went where he wanted, and Robin could only hang on for dear life.

In the final analysis, what failed Robin was his greatest gift—his imagination. Clutching the horse he could no longer think of a single thing to do to change his life or make himself feel better, and he stepped off the edge of the saddle. Had the horse been trained, it might have reminded him that there is always something we can do. We can take a walk until the feeling passes. We can find someone else suffering and help them, taking the attention off our own. Or, finally, we can learn to muster our courage and simply sit still with what we are thinking are insoluble problems, becoming as intimate with them as we can, facing them until we get over our fear. They may even be insoluble, but that does not mean that there is nothing we can do.

Our great-hearted friend will be back as the rain, as the cry of a Raven as the wind. He, you, and I have never for one moment not been a part of all it. But we would be doing his life and memory a dis-service if we did not extract some wisdom from his choice, which, if we ponder deeply enough, will turn out to be his last gift. He would beg us to pay attention if he could.”

33 responses to “Robin’s Last Gift – Peter Coyote

  1. I am touched by this piece. I liken this loss to my reaction to John Lennon’s parting. I try not to overstate a celebrity; however, Lennon and now Robin two have had a tremendous impact on my life. Thank you for this.

  2. Carol,
    Thanks for such a wonderful post. I, however disagree with Mr. Coyote on one point.
    It is when I lose the ability to connect with my imagination that I start to waiver. I forget that my primary responsibility as a human being is to hold onto and wonder about the mysteries of life that I can never fully understand.
    Because it is only when I continue to imagine that I continue to grow.
    It is when I no longer live in the realm of possibility, when I live in the world of black-and-white, that I start to lose my empathy for others and sympathy for myself. I lose the connection to my soul.
    When I lose the power to imagine I lose choices in my life.
    This is also where I believe we, collectively, suffer.

    • Hi Jim – This is just one man’s reflection, a friend of Robin Williams. It seems to me that he might be referring to Robin Williams’ imagination as being wild and uncontrollable at times, which was perhaps part of what may have been the trouble in his life. He was like a runaway train, unable to stop and even take care of his own needs. Anyway, it is such a great loss. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      • You’re more than welcome my dear and even though you did not write these words you were sensitive enough to realise their honesty and heartfelt origin. To repost this you are obviously a person of higher sensitivities. Respect to you and Mr Coyote (and of course, Mr Williams) 😀

  3. Great post and some truthful genuine insight into Robins issues.
    A great actor, a warm hearted guy and hilarious. One of the few people not just actors to generate such genuine sadness at his passing, especially in the way it happened.
    His tremendous body of work will be rewatched for generations – film can keep people alive, to an extent.

  4. The message this brings is beautiful, showing a whole picture of Robin Williams, the man, his greatness and his struggles, through interpretation. Lessons not learned, lessons given. A huge shame that he could no longer see the beauty of living, the beauty of himself as a human. He is missed and will always be remembered.

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