This particular morning began as it typically did, my morning routine carried out in a methodical fashion. After reading the newspaper, I made my way over to my laptop and mindlessly clicked over to Twitter, to catch up on the latest happenings, not expecting to see anything of remote significance, or at least not something that would inspire this very blog post. However, within minutes, my mind and heart was instantly churning, as I became enraptured with emotion and grief. The headline posted by my local ABC News affiliate TV station, 6abc, read, “John Forbes Nash, the mathematician behind the movie, A Beautiful Mind, and his wife, Alicia, tragically killed in a car crash on the New Jersey Turnpike.” My first instinct upon reading this tweet was shock, then it moved to upset, then to grief. There they were, aged 86 and 82, respectively, still residing in Princeton, where Nash worked for years as a renowned professor and weathered through bouts of mental illness, killed in a car accident in an otherwise, temperate Saturday afternoon. Apparently, they were riding in a taxi cab, on the New Jersey turnpike, when they were tragically struck at about 4:30pm.
It’s always so bizarre to me when I hear stories like this. After watching the movie, A Beautiful Mind, numerous times throughout the course of my life (both in my childhood and as a college student, for an assignment in my Abnormal Psychology class) and seeing all the Nashes encountered and endured, their lives were not taken by these illnesses or trying situations, but rather a tragic event, occurring in a split second. It’s instances like these that cause me to question most everything. It’s often not the illnesses or diseases we might fear of contracting that can cause a loss of life in minutes, but rather these tragic events that seem to happen at a moment’s notice, without warning. For 86 years, the Princeton community and world, in general, were graced with John Nash’s intelligence and eccentricity. Seeing his life documented on screen taught, influenced and inspired me. Sometimes, in a way, I think it contributed to my majoring in psychology. The first time I ever saw the movie, I was a young teenager of about 14. When I watched it, I was perplexed and unaware of a mental illness called schizophrenia. It was new to me, hearing the name, seeing the symptoms Nash depicted in the movie, and attempting to make sense of what I was seeing. After learning about it, I was intrigued and began to learn more about it on my own time. I began to develop a keen sense of understanding and empathy for those afflicted with schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness. When I chose to switch my major to psychology halfway through my college career, as a 20-year-old, I took an Abnormal Psychology class, where each week, my professor would choose a movie where a mental illness was depicted and we had to compose a review of it, as evidence of our understanding.
One week, A Beautiful Mind was chosen and though I’d see it in many years prior as a teenager, I felt the need to watch it again, realizing that my entire perspective and understanding of it would be dramatically different as I was now an adult and a psychology student. I was right in my hypothesis, seeing and noticing different aspects of the movie and mental illness as I watched the film as an adult. Perhaps it was that my life experiences I encountered throughout the years shaped and colored my changed perspective and viewpoint. Throughout the film, I watched in awe and was impressed by Nash’s resilience and ability to continue on, no matter his symptoms or fears.
Therefore, it is with a heavy dose of sadness and grief that I write this very post today. In a way, I felt I owed it to John Nash and his wife, Alicia, serving as the impetus behind a lot of my understanding and empathy for mental illness. Sometimes, in a way, I think it helped me in more ways than one. As a senior in college, I completed an internship where I worked with many adults who had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and I looked to them not as someone with a mental illness, but as someone who has the ability and strength for resilience. They were individuals who simply needed a trusted source and person to see them for who they are and not their illness.
Never did I view John Nash as his illness, but rather someone who was an inspirational figure to me, someone who I respected and admired, and who, in spite of it all, rose above the people who might have encouraged him to give up or surrender his career and goals. To me, he and his wife are two people to be celebrated and looked upon with the highest regard.
Thank you, John Nash, for your words, inspiration and talent; the world was blessed to know you.