(Wait a sec, isn’t he dead?)
Roger Ebert would have been eighty years old this week. It goes without saying he died too soon (2013), meaning we wanted to hear more from him. We wanted him to give us more. What a fine legacy that his written voice lives on for those who have the yearning to listen. I am grateful to his widow, Chaz Ebert for vitalizing Roger through RogerEbert.com.
Roger often wandered around on the page about death, even before he was diagnosed with a lethal form of oral cancer. He easily interspersed philosophical musings into movie reviews. His essay on Apocalypse Now ends: “The whole huge grand mystery of the world, so terrible, so beautiful, seems to hang in the balance.”
When I recently regained semi-consciousness after hip replacement surgery, I thought I was dead. Where am I? Where’s my body? What are you doing to me? Why does this hurt so much? Why am I so cold (a sure sign I was dead)? All these questions were in me but I’m not sure I was vocalizing them. Sounds of voices swirled around me. Were they talking to me? Or was I just thinking they were? It may not naturally follow that a person is consumed with thoughts of death after such an experience, but it certainly is true in my case. Spending a month of recovery reading about death was not my brightest idea, until I found consolation in old blog posts that Roger wrote towards the end of his life. Excerpted here are some of his words.
Happy birthday, Roger.
Go gentle into that good night
Roger Ebert May 02, 2009
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. 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.
I don’t expect to die anytime soon. But it could happen this moment, while I am writing.
I was talking the other day with Jim Toback, a friend of 35 years, and the conversation turned to our deaths, as it always does. “Ask someone how they feel about death,” he said, “and they’ll tell you everyone’s gonna die. Ask them, In the next 30 seconds? No, no, no, that’s not gonna happen. How about this afternoon? No. What you’re really asking them to admit is, Oh my God, I don’t really exist and I might be gone at any given second.”
Me too, but I hope not. I have plans. Still, this blog has led me resolutely toward the contemplation of death. In the beginning I found myself drawn toward writing about my life. Everyone’s life story is awaiting only the final page. Then I began writing on the subject of evolution, that most consoling of all the sciences, and was engulfed in an unforeseen discussion about God, the afterlife, and religion
I was told that I was an atheist. Or an agnostic. Or a deist. I refused all labels. It is too easy for others to pin one on me, and believe they understand me. I am still working on understanding myself.
“Kindness” covers all of my political beliefs. No need to spell them out. 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.
Someday I will no longer call out, and there will be no heartbeat. What happens then? From my point of view, nothing. Absolutely nothing. Still, as I wrote today to a woman I have known since she was six: “You’d better cry at my memorial service.”
Read the entire essay at Go gentle into that good night