August 15, 2014

I was traveling in Australia when I heard the news about Robin Williams—actually in a text message from my wife. “Robin Williams committed suicide.”

The media treatment is full of praise, full of memories, and full of sadness. Everyone is secretly thinking, “How could a genius of laughter on the outside, be filled with the swirling darkness of despair on the inside? Didn’t he have it all—money, fame, women, big houses, big cars. Everything anyone could want? Everything I could want?”

I didn’t know about Williams’ suicide when I went out on the ferry that takes tourists around Sydney harbor, past the famous Sydney Opera House.

Sydney is a very secular city, in an increasingly secularized country. What you see, as you scan the embracing land holding in the harbor, are dense mass of houses and high-rises all around the rim, each trying to get a glimpse of the good life through their windows, packed in like the bustling frantic tourists crowding the Sydney beaches all shoving and shouldering for their thin slice of the view.

In that crowd—my hosts had to point them out, and I had to squint—were a few much older buildings, churches, timidly peeking out among the far more numerous apartment buildings, high rises, and houses jostling for position along the water’s edge.

The churches were few and far between, and looked as if they were passing into tourist status like ancient ruins, rather than being vibrant centers of faith. If they were breathing, they were breathing hard, knocked about by the larger buildings dedicated to getting all one can in the here and now.

“There’s the Gap,” my host pointed to a lowering of land off the right side of the ferry. “That’s the place for suicides in Sydney.”

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