Wednesday, August 13, 2014
For Bill O'Reilly and the Fisher King
It boils down to “say what you mean, mean what you say,” doesn’t it? On O’Reilly’s show, the Factor, upon delivering the “news” of Robin William’s death, O’Reilly prefaced his remarks by saying “We won’t speculate at this point upon the circumstances of William’s death.” But not five minutes later, O’Reilly couldn’t help himself and muttered “When I first heard of it I immediately thought ‘overdose or suicide.’” The spin didn’t stop there, Bill. But I’m not here to bury O’Reilly, I like him and think he’s an overall fair and square celebrity talking head. I’m here to pray and praise the Fisher King. (I knew if I titled this “For the Fisher King,” I’d lose any readership from the start.)
“The Fisher King” was one of Robin William’s finest films, if also one of the strangest.
Directed by the eccentric American/British artist, Terry Gilliam (of Monty Python fame), it tells of the clash of cultures in the late last century represented by the downfall of two high achieving careerists. The primary character, played by the equally genius Jeff Bridges is a shock jock in the mold of Howard Stern who inadvertently compels one of his legion of unstable listeners to “act out” his rage against the machine by shooting up yuppies in a fashionable Manhattan restaurant. One of those killed is the wife of the loving literature college professor, played by Robin Williams. When the media makes the connection, the raging shock jock’s character and career, which was about to go national on TV, careens into despair and degradation. Hitting rock bottom, the shock jock goes to the harbor intending to commit suicide, whereupon he’s set upon by a couple of young, rich punks whose entertainment is setting fire to vagrant homeless people. But Bridges is saved by a band of homeless, crazed Merry Men warriors led by Parry, Robin William’s alter ego from post-traumatic event syndrome mode after his wife’s senseless murder.
Suddenly Bridges is confronted, face-down in the big muddy so to speak, with the sort of people he really hated more than the pretentious yuppies he mocked on his show. He is nursed and comforted by the obviously deranged Parry, learns of Parry’s heroic quest to find the Fisher King of medieval yore. The Fisher King’s destiny is to recover the Holy Grail used at the Last Supper, and Parry’s convinced it is housed in a modern castle on Fifth Avenue. I have to leave the rest of this most redemptive, if quirky and certainly emotionally and intellectually compelling story for you to rent or view for yourself.
Bill O’Reilly’s first thought of William’s death, “overdose or suicide,” was not my first thought. My first thought, no less or more important than O’Reilly’s, was “As sad as this is, the news cycle covering Williams will displace that which ever so briefly and finally got the world’s attention on the genocide of Christians and other non-Muslims in Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria when the media was forced to look upon thousands of refugees on a barren, rocky plateau in Kurdistan called Mount Sinjar. Who will mourn with the fathers holding the bodies of their children beheaded by the corporate evil that tramples thousands of souls into desert ditches?
The intersection at which these thoughts collide is that alone we cannot exorcize all the demonic forces that affect us as individuals, communities, societies, nations and as the only species endowed with the foreknowledge of our own impending deaths. We have to cope with that reality, if only at the moment it is imminent and unavoidable.
The loss of life of most people, none of them sinless if you are of a Judeo-Christian persuasion, is not an occasion for rejoicing or mirth, glee or self-righteous gloating (“At least I’m not like that guy, Williams, roasting in hell in Dante’s suicide suite.”) Neither is it an occasion for excruciating, relentless despair that wails “Woe is me, all is lost.” What folks like O’Reilly and Williams and countless other celebrities of good will remind us is that redemption will always remain an option for any of us who have fallen. And who hasn’t fallen? Redemption is not a state of being for religious believers only. Redemption befalls both the beggar about to take his last breath in a gutter in Calcutta, and Blessed Mother Theresa who stopped and realized all she could do for the beggar was to be with him in that last moment. And then our souls move on, hopefully in a more resolved and purposeful direction to “make someone happy, make just one someone happy.”
The poet Emerson’s famed homily, “to know that one person has breathed easier because you lived” is only one of hundreds of such truthful admonitions. But the one I like is “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know!” This is what I know- the quest for whatever amounts to each of our Holy Grails cannot and will not ever be a journey of solitude or individual perseverance. The cup of living life must be shared in order that its destiny is fulfilled. Even if Stephen Hawking, whose story and life is a testament to perseverance through monumental adversity, goes to his grave without having “found” his grail of the unified field theory in physics; even if the grail of a lasting and true peace in the Holy Land and all over the globe remains ever at bay, even if you give up hope, love, prayers and support for both your beloved and your “enemies” because you alone despair that grail is unattainable, remember that Robin Williams, whether as the deranged errant knight Parry, or Mrs. Doubtfire, as the hapless banker in “The Best of Times” or the simple standup comedian whose picture is next to the term ROTFLMAO in the modern lexicon, lived life as fully as he could, and gave much more value to humanity than politicians, church folk, and certainly merchants of death like ISIS and other evil forces masquerading as true believers and God’s chosen people. Williams said what he meant, meant what he said. You can quote me on that.