When I was five years old, I spent some extended time in the hospital—the details of which aren’t too important for this story, except that it was a long time and a hard one. And I had some very specific ways of passing the time. I recall there was a lot of “Gilligan's Island” on Nick at Nite. There were endless rounds of Mario Kart on the Nintendo that was blessedly installed in the room. And there was “Mrs. Doubtfire.”
Not your average kindergartener's movie, what with being about a messy divorce and identity fraud, but for some reason it had me hooked. I would watch and rewind, watch and rewind. Eventually my mom, who observed this behavior daily, wrote to Robin Williams to thank him for making the movie and bringing me happiness in a difficult time.
Miracle of miracles, his assistant called us back, and asked my family and I to join Robin for lunch once I was well enough. We did just that and spent one of the most memorable days of my life talking about my main interests at the time—Pokémon, dolphins and Powerpuff Girls—as well as joking about how hirsute he was and hearing stories from his many movies.
The friendship didn't end there, and he visited me in the hospital multiple times after that, sending care packages and leaving me a voicemail for my seventh birthday. Although communication continued between my family and Robin's assistant for a while to keep them updated on my health, eventually we moved away and one of the surprise hospital visits became the last.
Throughout my youth and adolescence I continued to think of him and his kindness, and how his morale boosts in the form of humor and joy contributed to the literal extension of my lifetime. I often contemplated the idea of writing a letter to give him a full update on my life, where I was in school, what I liked to do and even a photo or two—along with a thank you for everything he did for me.
But years went by and each time I thought about what to put in the letter, it didn't seem like the right moment. I was continuously on the cusp of achieving something more or reaching another milestone. If I wanted to include in the letter that I'd learned to drive, gotten into college, graduated high school, added a prom picture—I would have had to wait until those moments passed. I wanted to give Robin a full portrait of life that he had contributed to, and another line in the letter was always in sight.
But this went on forever. I learned where I was going to college, but when would I get a 4.0, join a sorority, publish a book, make Phi Beta Kappa, be elected editor-in-chief of The Chronicle? On top of the eternally-extending list of milestones, there were also the ones that slipped away from me (read: all of the items on that list).
Then Robin died two summers ago, nearly 12 years to the day since his birthday wishes appeared on our answering machine. I hadn't sent a letter, hadn't talked to him again. He wouldn't see my grown-up messages of gratitude and we couldn’t rekindle the unlikely friendship. And that felt like the biggest mistake I had made in my short life.
But what I know now and what I have taken from that heartbreak is that Robin was a gift that kept giving. Throughout all this waiting, I rarely realized how miraculous it was that I was waiting at all. There were times when I was young that it wasn’t guaranteed I would make it to second grade, let alone my senior prom, 100th Chronicle article or dancing in a dorm room at 2 a.m. on a Tuesday. The imaginary letter to Robin carried the assumption that any and all future milestones were not only possible, but probable, and that I would reach them and have more to tell him the more time went on. The real miracle was that the letter never had to be written because I was never “done.”
And I’m still not done. I’m waiting to graduate in two weeks. I’m waiting for lunch tomorrow. I’m waiting to work in the White House, to backpack around New Zealand and take a road trip with a dog. This is what is so foolish and crazy about anyone—not just those of us who have had Robin Williams in our lives—who has ever had a career goal, set a coffee date or made a Pinterest board for wedding ideas. Despite so many challenges awaiting us and so much evidence to the contrary, we assume that the best, or simply more, is yet to come.
And I think that’s what we’ve all been waiting for this whole time, when we wake up and feel like this can’t be all that there is: we are waiting to find the next thing to wait for. We are waiting to set a new goal and recreate our idealized version of ourselves. We wait because it’s possible and because it’s one of the things that makes living so much fun.
I won’t see Robin again, but I will think of him whenever I look around my life for the next experience to set my sights on. A lot of us are about to wear the robes and graduate out of Duke, out of Durham in mere days. We will too frequently get asked the question, “What are you doing next?” Many of us will have no location, no job, no long-term or short-term answer in mind, and will just have to see what happens with time.
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What a miracle it is that we have a chance to wait for it all.
Georgia Parke is a Trinity senior and Recess editor, former executive digital editor and local and national editor. She would like to shout out to the many inspiring staffers of Volumes 108-111 especially merxola, locopop, Mr. Teeth, djinisinabottle and gracielou; true originals Ferp, Peegz and Teej; Sailor Moon sisters Bex, NeNe, AJoy and Coco; and Mrs. Doubtfire.