“Over and out.”
– Roger Ebert, shaking his head and communicating through text-to-voice software, when asked about the possibility of undergoing additional surgery in the hope of buying more time.
Esquire’s profile of Roger Ebert is one of the best things I have read in awhile. Few things are as beautiful to me as a person showing us all how to die with humility and dignity:
His doctors would like to try one more operation, would like one more chance to reclaim what cancer took from him, to restore his voice. Chaz would like him to try once more, too. But Ebert has refused. Even if the cancer comes back, he will probably decline significant intervention. The last surgery was his worst, and it did him more harm than good. Asked about the possibility of more surgery, he shakes his head and types before pressing the button.
“Over and out,” the voice says.
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.”
Ebert takes joy from the world in nearly all the ways he once did. He has had to find a new way to laugh — by closing his eyes and slapping both hands on his knees — but he still laughs. He and Chaz continue to travel. (They spent Thanksgiving in Barbados.) And he still finds joy in books, and in art, and in movies — a greater joy than he ever has. He gives more movies more stars.