In Patch Adams, Williams portrays the lead teaching Doctor in a hospital and is assigned to teach the newly minted, very wise, young medical students to be doctors. After numerous attempts to help them learn to really care for their patients, with not just head knowledge but with heart knowledge, he comes up with a plan that they should each enter the hospital as a patient and spend some significant time being prodded, poked, confused, and frustrated. Being in the patient’s shoes, or bed pan!, helps them understand the part of medicine that often makes the greatest impact on the welfare of the patient – the physician to patient relationship. The ability to be heard, and cared for, that goes beyond the medical expertise and builds a sense of confidence and well being in the heart and mind of the patient in uncharted territory.
Dead Poet’s Society finds Williams on the prep school campus teaching English in unorthodox ways that engage the students but truly infuriate the faculty. In one scene, Williams instructs the students to stand on their desks in order to see the world from a different perspective. Throughout the movie he is trying to get his students to be who they were created to be and to not conform to the expectations of others. He is also trying to get the adults to understand who these students really are and to allow them to fill their own shoes, not the shoes of their elders.
Jesus said the second greatest commandment was to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27 When we love ourselves, we see ourselves for who God created us to be, and we allow ourselves to grow more into the image of Himself that He has placed within us. It is often difficult to know yourself, but it is the key to really understanding how to love your neighbor, as yourself. I believe in order to really love our neighbor we have to try to understand the path they are walking by putting ourselves in their place, like Williams portrayed, to walk in their shoes, and check ourselves to see how we feel. By understanding how we feel in their place, we can find ways to more likely “love” them in ways that will translate to them and we will understand ourselves and our own “blind spots” more readily. I have found that some of my greatest ”blind spots” have truly kept me from being all of who God created me to be, and addressing them has allowed me to love myself and my neighbor more.
I am so grateful for Cindy Swanson-Choo and David Bergesen for leading two recent Adult Ed. Offerings on the topic of Understanding Mental Illness. These classes, and others like them, help us to better understand our “neighbor” and how to love them, while we learn to love and understand our own mental selves in the process. Support Groups like Divorce Care, led by Brenda Smith and Stephen Ministry, led by Susan and Denny Burke, Ron Atkinson and myself are also ways to reach out to give, and receive care, by allowing someone to walk along side you, and match you step for step on the journey, in the name of Christ like love. Christ never called us to walk alone. He always promised to be with us, even in the valley of the shadows, but I believe He does allow us some times in the shadows in order that we might learn how it feels, and so be able to love our neighbors as we needed to be loved.
The apostle Paul says, in the end “faith, hope and love abide, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor. 13:13 I pray that each of us will learn to love our neighbors as ourselves in the way Jesus showed us. Thank you God for the life of Robin Williams, and for the films that you allowed him to make, that can give us pictures of ways to learn to love our neighbors as we love ourselves .