You’re Free, Genie.

I heard yesterday of course. Everyone did. Mr. Sabine texted me and I checked the news and determinedly set it aside and went back to work. But this morning it struck me, and in ways I didn’t expect. So I need a place to remember — not simply his comedy, but his profound and vibrant understanding of life.

He was so much more than his films, but they are the easiest way to mark his impact on our society, to celebrate the raw emotion, high and low, that shone in his face and his unforgettable voice: Happy Feet, Hook, Mork and Mindy, Mrs. Doubtfire, Patch Adams, Popeye, Jumanji, The Night At The Museum films, Toys, Fern Gully, Nine Months, Good Will Hunting, Robots, Old Dogs, Bicentennial Man, and many more I’ve not named.

No one who has seen the Genie forgets the Genie. There are few times in my life that I can remember laughing until I cried, but watching Aladdin, in which much of the Genie’s dialogue was improvisation, was one of those times. I was in a theater in a small town in Indiana, a high school senior who’d never had a boyfriend and had experienced one, utterly unrepeatable kiss. What would I do with three wishes? I probably wouldn’t have freed the Genie.

As Genie: “Fine. I understand. After all, you’ve lied to everyone else. Hey, I was just beginning to feel left out. Now, if you’ll excuse me, Master.”

As Genie: “Hey, it’s only an eternity of servitude. This is love. Al, you’re never going to find another girl like her in a million years. Believe me, I know: I’ve looked.”

The first time I ever imagined losing Mr. Sabine was after watching What Dreams May Come. I didn’t see it when it came out, but later, shortly before we married. I had a nightmare then that was so vivid and realistic that it clung to my heart and mind for days. I couldn’t talk to Mr. Sabine about it – and he did ask! It built and built and re-played in my mind until it poured out in a tear-stained letter on 7 pages of Winnie the Pooh stationary. I sobbed for days. I haven’t watched the film since and God willing, I never will again.

As Chris:  “Thank you for every kindness. Thank you for our children. For the first time I saw them. Thank you for being someone I was always proud to be with. For your guts, for your sweetness. For how you always looked, for how I always wanted to touch you. God, you were my life. I apologize for everytime I ever failed you. Especially this one…”

As Chris: “A whole human life is just a heartbeat here in Heaven. Then we’ll all be together forever.”

As Chris: “What’s true in our minds is true, whether some people know it or not.”

The first time I ever understood the horror of the Vietnam War was watching Good Morning, Vietnam. Through comedy, he expressed the futility and defeated spirit of the men & women who were there, and their inexhaustible will to live that helped them cope with their everyday lives.

As Adrian:  “I’m saying I’m through, Ed. I’m tired of people tellin’ me what I can’t say.”

The first time I ever seriously thought about suicide was in Dead Poets’ Society. I watched it on video, early on in my teenage years. We’d rented it, and my mom had no idea what it was about. I think she thought it would be a comedy; after all, it starred Robin Williams of her sitcom love Mork and Mindy. It wasn’t.

Even more important than what this film said about suicide was what it said to me about the written word, and film too, in many respects, although I watch relatively few films. Dead Poets’ Society fundamentally changed the way I related to literature and poetry for ever after. In one film, John Keating taught me more about writing and reading than I had gleaned from years of reading and writing and literature at school. For that, I will always be grateful.

As John Keating: “When you read, don’t just consider what the author thinks, consider what you think.”

As John Keating: “Boys, you must strive to find your own voice. Because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are to find it at all. Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out! Break out now is the time!”

As John Keating: “They’re not that different from you, are they? Same haircuts. Full of hormones, just like you. Invincible, just like you feel. The world is their oyster. They believe they’re destined for great things, just like many of you, their eyes are full of hope, just like you. Did they wait until it was too late to make from their lives even one iota of what they were capable? Because, you see gentlemen, these boys are now fertilizing daffodils. But if you listen real close, you can hear them whisper their legacy to you. Go on, lean in. Listen, you hear it? – – Carpe – – hear it? – – Carpe. Carpe diem, seize the day. Boys, make your lives extraordinary.”

As John Keating: “No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.”

In that film, he farewelled those boys he had loved and mentored with these simple words. “Thank you, boys. Thank you.”

Thank you, Genie. Thank you.


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