Everywhere I looked this past week, I saw surprise and sadness at the passing of Robin Williams, and I was no less surprised or saddened. The words that poured out from the news and social media were all about the laughter and joy his characters brought, the incredible person he was, the moments and the way that the great comedic actor impacted their lives in some way. For me, it was through his teachings as Mr. Keating – O Captain, my Captain! – in Dead Poets Society.
I don’t think that’s it’s an exaggeration to say that movie changed my life. The movie came out while I was young, still in school and still shaping my own thoughts and outlook on life. And Mr. Keating was such a passionate teacher, so in love with words and the English language, and even more so…with learning to think for yourself. Who remembers the courtyard exercise where the first three students quickly fell into line and the remaining students clapped in time to their steps (and of course, Mr. Dalton exercising his right not to walk after)?
As I grew older and went through junior high and high school, I found myself becoming more like Todd Anderson. Quiet, keeping my thoughts to myself, watching others go on around me. But I would come back to this movie, and wonder when I might sound my own barbaric yawp across the world. I wanted to make my life extraordinary. To…carpe diem.
Seizing the day isn’t just one afternoon. It’s about approaching life, every day, like it’s precious. I think that’s how we can make our own lives extraordinary. Like Knox Overstreet making his attempts to woe his crush and Neil Perry auditioning for the play because he had always wanted to act (though of course his final out from his parents was one I cannot understand or agree with). But it’s about trying new things, trying the things that you want to do.
As Mr. Keating was wont to do, I’ll bring this back to Uncle Walt (Walt Whitman):
“Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring – What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are-that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.”
-Oh me! Oh life!
“What will your verse be?” – Mr. Keating