I remember being a kid at my grandparents’ house watching Robin Williams do his whirlwind standup on TV, and hearing in the gale one obscure historical reference after another. I don’t remember the bit he was doing because the trance of his fury was broken when it hit me how much history and breadth of knowledge he had to command to pull those references at just the right time.
It wasn’t that he knew how to make the Roman Empire funny, it was that he knew how to drop a fact about the Roman Empire into an unexpected context and make people howl. When I was a kid, I was laughing as much at his cadence and physicality as I was at most of the jokes, because I didn’t get a lot of his references. But I aspired to understand them.
I couldn’t tell you another word he said that night because I was too transfixed by the door he had just opened for me. If I wanted to be funny, I had to know things, boring things. From then on I had to start looking things up. I had to start paying attention.
As I sit here thinking about this now, I look at the habits I have formed as a result of that realization. Nine out of ten jokes I write for Twitter, or short stories I post here, have spent days, weeks getting polished and researched. I spend a lot of time on Wikipedia looking up historical figures and events, calling my friends who are doctors and Biblical scholars to fact check jokes about medical conditions and theology. Pursuing comedy sent me down a path to becoming a student, and though my family first made me want to be funny, that studious path began one night in my teens watching Robin Williams at my grandparents’ house.
I am grieved at his passing, and still deeper by the way he went. I don’t fight depression, but I am well acquainted with anxiety and fear, which can be just as debilitating at times, so I can at least begin to appreciate how dark it can get. Jesus has been my strength and has quieted me countless times, as well as my dear wife and church community.
Also, pills help.
But let me plead with you to hear the importance of being known in community. Find a healthy community of people you can trust, people who love you no matter what you take to them. Believe it or not, churches can be great at this. Many are not. In fact, some churches might be a big source of your troubles, but they’re not all that way. When you find one where the people walk with the limp of their brokenness rather than the swagger of their pride, grab a pew, introduce yourself, and tell them what you are going through. Because when you do, and they move closer instead of retreating, you will have some powerful medicine indeed. You will also have a great picture of God’s unflappable love.
Huh? Oh, did I start preaching there for a minute? These things happen.
It’s also worth noting that these steps are not steps toward getting cured of depression or anxiety. It doesn’t work that way. There is a rat’s nest of factors for any given person, so if you want to help someone you love, don’t expect to give comfort to them with something you read on a coffee cup in the Christian bookstore, but do expect to stick around, and expect to repeat yourself. And if you are looking for help, you will find it. While sharing your struggles in loving community will not miraculously cure you, struggling alone is not an option.