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    Posted August 12, 2014 by
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    In Memoriam

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    Robin Williams as John Keating in Dead Poet Society


    When I was in high school, Dead Poet Society changed my life. It gave me a sense of identity and purpose, as well as a longing to touch others with words. It lit a fire in me that ignited a passion to truly live. At the time I was not sure what that meant, but I knew I was willing to find out. It filled me with a new understanding of myself, and an affirmation that a life dedicated to art and poetry and theatre and beauty was not only a worthy pursuit, but also, for me, an essential one. I was hooked.


    The film also showed me for the first time that words have the ability to shift human consciousness to heights previously unimaginable. I discovered, as it were, myself, and what it means to live the brave life, outside the rigidity of social norms. To be a misfit for the sake of love, and to break those ridiculous societal rules that so often keep us from becoming full human beings. The poetry…the musical score…the cinematography and script…all of it built a framework around the film’s centerpiece: the teacher John Keating.


    John Keating handed me a key, and the lock was to my own heart, and when––at his prompting with the words “What will your verse be?”––I turned that key, I discovered for the first time what it felt like to be free. Free to express the longing, the depths, the joys, and the horrors of each and every day through the creative spirit—to look for what others had missed, and shine a light on it and say, “Hey, look what I found, isn’t it bizarre…and beautiful?”—to find that place in our hearts where our humanity truly lives. He showed me how to step into the unknown and exist beyond safety, and to appreciate the passion of the oddball and the vulnerability of the sublime. All of which I could find right inside myself, if I was only willing to look.


    He also taught me that, as artists and creators, we must take seriously the honing of our craft. To nurture it, and commit to it fully, and push through the thousands of babbling insecurities we all experience so that we might continue to grow, and discover our new potential everyday.


    Now, perhaps if another actor had been chosen for the part of John Keating, I might have had the same experience…but I have a hard time imagining that to be true. And I have a pretty good imagination. On that screen, Robin Williams was John Keating. He transformed not only the movie—turning what could easily have been sappy and sentimental into something magical and awe-inspiring—but also his audience. Some of us came out of that theatre transformed…forever. Robin Williams will always live in my heart, yes for the countless brilliant roles he played, and for making me laugh so hard that I got a complete abdominal workout from it, but I think mostly as John Keating…one of my great teachers.


    Oh Captain! My Captain! I owe you so much. You shall truly be missed.


    --Shawn Thomas Odyssey, August 12, 2014


    Shawn Thomas Odyssey is an Edgar and Agatha Award nominated author of magical mystery books for kids

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