Prisms, memories and hurricanes

From my book on Robin Williams, I’m translating it into English and this is a text i already posted on the blog in Italian. You can find it here. He influenced my way of thinking, my principles and the way in which I (try to) live my life much more than I can say. One of the people I admire (and love) most in the world.

We all know we have endless worlds inside. We love and admire most those people who unhinge our certainties, undermine clichés and cannot be forced to fit into any box. People who are full of contradictions and yet always true to themselves, multifaceted prisms that shimmer with lights of so many different colors depending on the place and time from which you are looking, and yet recompose themselves to form an indivisible whole.

It’s funny, then, that we insist nonetheless on putting these people, sooner or later, into some sort of category. Even more than others, perhaps, as we are fascinated but also somewhat afraid, worried, even a bit annoyed: as hard as we try, the unusual, the uncommon throws us off balance and therefore often gets under our skin; if we like someone, we try to bring them back to a sort of universal harmony, or at least, to our personal sense of harmony: he was one of us after all, the rich also cry, the sad clown, the depression of comedians, the dark side of fame. You smiled whenever you noticed these attempts, and walked your own path without a hint of anger – just a note of bitterness sometimes – and without letting yourself be changed.

It’s as if we liked to dishevel our world for a while, just for the sake of it, sure that the world will be soon restored. The wind can blow through our hair, provided it does not ruffle us up too much and does not make us fly. But when they are real, and not just appearance, these people are hurricanes, sweet and gentle, maybe, but hurricanes nonetheless, and you don’t take a hurricane in hand. We should just wish we are there when they come through, accept the upheaval they leave behind and not try to change their direction or movement, it’s perfect as it is, with all its illogicality, or rather, because of its illogicality, better still, because it follows an unusual logic.

Almost all of us have experienced the cruel fury of life against those who deserve it least, injustice hurts, and hurts badly, it makes us think that there must be some form of higher justice and if there isn’t, it should be invented. Many have had to deal with this sooner or later, but still I can’t accept that one of the most brilliant, generous, unconventional, tactful, kind, humble, gentle and unselfish men in the world had to face what is perhaps the worst fate one can suffer: losing your memory and your reason piece by piece (and the control over your body) and be aware of it.

With each detail added, I realize more and more that not only you were unique and special (we all are, in our own way), but that you’ve been able not to set a boundary to that uniqueness. Your greatness is so much more precious because it must be looked for, unveiled in a way: we can guess it, but it is not obvious.

Known for being kind in a town that has made a hallmark of kindness; known for being a genius in a performing arts school that accepted only the best; known for being a support and an important presence for your colleagues and for anyone else in a world in which the rule seems to be mors tua, vita mea. Known by whom, though? By those who make research, who listen to the small stories of “common” people, who are never common anyway, and certainly not in your eyes: the people who sold you bicycles, those who knew someone in the children’s hospitals where you would suddenly appear without telling anyone in advance. We shouldn’t read the words spoken immediately after your death, on the spur of the moment, guided by shock and maybe a desire to be in the limelight for a bit, but rather those said after some time, when a chance association stems from a sudden memory, and emotion takes a friend by surprise.

So, for all the pain and injustice that sometimes stir inside me like furies, I’m thinking that I’m glad you gave your wife a special day to tell her goodbye and decided to die while that goodbye was still in your eyes and in your heart. I’m glad that you were not unhappy at all, as we would have selfishly wished, maybe: that way, we wouldn’t have had to blame you for a decision which, on the other hand, was only yours (although for some form of morality I don’t understand, we should not be allowed to die until unhappiness and pain have entirely consumed us and the people near us). And there was more: perhaps, in our heart, many of us wished to make you happy, and it was easier to think no one else could do that. Although you suffered from depression at some point, it wasn’t the reason of your decision.

I’m glad you kept the spark of madness you had chosen yourself, and not the one that your disease would have forced into you, glad that you decided to die entire, while you were alive, without letting any form of constriction clutch at you, not even death itself. I’m glad (the word glad may sound odd in this context, but I know you would understand, and this is all what matters to me) that you kept until the last moment your limitless ability to think of others before yourself and take care of them, which was, in the end, the basis of all that zest for life that, whatever they say, you have always had and transmitted. Have no doubt, you were right to hang on to the memories you had left, prevent them from being deleted, before or after that day, because if you lose those, what’s left to desire, what dreams may come? Ah, your memory, your prodigious memory, by which you remembered the lines of every show and the name of anyone who passed you in the street, the memory you managed to preserve, as far as possible, to make it part of the way in which those who remain can remember. Only your strength of spirit was bigger than you memory, which made you hope against hope, for the sake of those you loved, that a different end was possible. But when it became clear that this was not the case, you took that love and all your courage, which wasn’t small, it was a heavy weight to carry too, but you didn’t think about it too long, you bundled it up in a bag like those of the wanderers of ancient times and walked away, leaving behind the best part of all you had given and received.

You are “my” hurricane, my love, let me call you that once again, in spite of everything, I wish you knew how important it was for me to be there while you passed by, to see you and try to understand you, just that, nothing more, so as to understand myself, collect the endless number of memories you’ve left behind and thus try not to lose my own memory. There are many ways to meet. My research is not finished yet. I’m still here.

Nemico degli uomini / Enemy to Mankind – recensione della Vera Storia del Pirata Long John Silver / Review of Long John Silver: The True and Eventful Story…

Long John Silver

Ci sono libri – e personaggi – che s’imprimono con particolare forza non solo nella nostra memoria, ma nella nostra stessa vita, e le danno magari una svolta che altrimenti non ci sarebbe stata. Questo sembra essere accaduto a Bjorn Larsson, a seguito del suo incontro con l‘Isola del Tesoro, ma più che altro con Long John Silver: immagino sarebbe diventato scrittore comunque, ma avrebbe scritto d’altro, se non si fosse trovato sulla sua strada questo straordinario pirata colto, evasivo e sfuggente eppure figura di prepotente carisma, narratore inesauribile per amore della menzogna e delle storie, nonché per salvarsi la vita, di cui Stevenson dice relativamente poco ma lascia indovinare molto, facendone un ideale protagonista e narratore di un romanzo come questo: anticonvenzionale, libertario, vitale e spregiudicato come l’uomo (sia pure di carta) dal quale è stato ispirato. Crudele e avvincente e avventuroso come quelli che da ragazzini ci tenevano a leggere sotto le coperte fino a tarda notte per vedere “come va a finire”. Ma anche con la capacità di restituire in modo mirabile le molte domande che accompagnano i nostri ideali più alti e apparentemente indiscutibili, come la giustizia, la liberta, l’umanità e l’uguaglianza, nelle loro applicazioni quotidiane.

L’unica cosa che conta per John Silver è vivere, non esistere, ma vivere. Per questo è disposto a mentire, spergiurare, rimangiarsi promesse e parole d’onore con la massima leggerezza e anche a uccidere. e per questo si serve delle parole come degli uomini senza alcuno scrupolo.

Ma questo amore profondo per la vita è anche capace di restituirlo a molti che sembravano averlo perduto. È quell’amore, e non un malinteso bisogno di sentirsi buono, che lo mette dalla parte della giustizia contro l’ipocrisia e l’inumanità di quelli che, paradossalmente, si sono arrogati il diritto di decidere chi sono gli “uomini”: ed è contro questi in particolare, che John  Silver sembra  aver scelto di diventare un “nemico dell’umanità”.

Di ogni cosa che fa è il solo a prendersi il merito come le colpe, la responsabilità personale è forse quanto di più vicino a un ideale permea la sua vita apparentemente senza ideali. Questo contare solo su se stesso, naturalmente, ha il suo rovescio. La solitudine di John Silver è la sua capacità di vivere un’intera vita con altri esseri umani senza mai capirli fino in fondo, senza mai davvero essere “insieme” a loro, senza “vederli” davvero se non come i riflessi di quella che per lui è la natura speciale di una vita umana, la sua vita. E dunque, John Silver è l’uomo che ci spinge a chiederci se la solitudine non sia il giusto – e inevitabile – prezzo della libertà. E tuttavia, la sua vita non sembra dopotutto meno felice, e forse neanche più crudele, di chi dà al destino le colpe e i meriti di ciò che accade, rassegnandosi o perfino giustificando i propri comportamenti vigliacchi, quando non inumani, alla luce di una presunta provvidenza divina.

Certain books – and characters – stick with particular strength not only in our mind, but in our life, and give it a turn, perhaps, that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. This seems to have been the case for Bjorn Larsson, when he met with Treasure Island and, above all, with Long John Silver. He would have become a writer anyway, I suppose, but he would have written of other things, had his paths not crossed with this extraordinary pirate, cultured, elusive and ambiguous, but a figure of forceful charisma nonetheless, tireless narrator for the love of stories and of fabrication, as well as for the sake of his own life. Stevenson tells little enough of him, leaves much to the imagination, which makes Long John an ideal protagonist and narrator of a novel like this: anticonventional, libertarian, vital and ruthless like the man (although existing only “on paper”) that inspired it. Cruel and engrossing and adventurous like those that as teenagers we kept reading all night under the blankets to see “how it ends”. But also admirably reproposing the many questions that accompany our highest and apparently unquestionable ideals, such as justice, freedom, humanity and equality, when applied in our everyday life.

What counts for him is just living, not existing, but living. This is his aim and for this he is ready to lie, perjure, go back on his word and on his promises with extreme carefulness and even to kill.

And for this aim he exploits words and men equally – and ruthlessly.

On the other hand, he is also able to give this love for life back to those who seemed to have lost it. It is for that love, and not for a misguided ‘feel-good’ attitude, that he takes the side of justice against the hypocrisy and inhumanity of those who have unilaterally appropriated the right to decide who belongs to mankind; and it seems to be mainly against them, that John Silver has become an “enemy to mankind”.

He takes the credit and the blame for whatever he does, personal responsibility is as close to an ideal as he can get in his apparently ideal-less life. Counting exclusively on himself has its drawbacks, of course. The loneliness of John Silver lies in his being able to live all his life with other human beings without ever understanding them entirely, without ever being actually “with” them, without actually “seeing” them, other than as reflections of what is the special nature of a human life to him, his own life. So John Silver leads us to wonder whether loneliness if the fair – and unavoidable – price of freedom. And yet, his life does not seem, after all, to be less happy, or even more cruel, than the life of those who transfer blame and credit for all that happens to destiny, putting up with everything or even justifying their own cowardice, not to speak of viciousness, with claims to divine providence.