February 16, 2010
Roger Ebert: 'There Is No Need to Pity Me'
In profiling the critic's battle with cancer, Esquire has a great story about a great writer
In one of the best pieces I've ever read about Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert, Esquire magazine gives us a well-written and sensitive look into the life of a man who has lost his voice but not his spirit or gift. Arguably the best film critic of all time, Ebert is an interesting study -- he's an atheist in a world (big-time newspapers) that's generally populated with hard cynics, but he is full of joy, wit, and wonder, even as his life slips away.
"There is no need to pity me" he tells the Esquire writer, Chris Jones, by writing on a scrap of paper. "Look how happy I am."
Later in the story, Jones writes (italicized portions are Ebert's direct quotes):
Ebert is dying in increments, and he is aware of it.
I know it is coming, and I do not fear it, because I believe there is nothing on the other side of death to fear, he writes in a journal entry titled "Go Gently into That Good Night." I hope to be spared as much pain as possible on the approach path. I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state. What I am grateful for is the gift of intelligence, and for life, love, wonder, and laughter. You can't say it wasn't interesting. My lifetime's memories are what I have brought home from the trip. I will require them for eternity no more than that little souvenir of the Eiffel Tower I brought home from Paris.
There has been no death-row conversion. He has not found God. He has been beaten in some ways. But his other senses have picked up since he lost his sense of taste. He has tuned better into life. Some things aren't as important as they once were; some things are more important than ever. He has built for himself a new kind of universe. Roger Ebert is no mystic, but he knows things we don't know.
I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn't always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.