Warning: the picture that accompanies the article is rather startling. Ebert has been battling cancer in his mouth and salivary glands for years and the medical treatments have removed most of his jaw. Those who remember his rounded visage from "At The Movies" are in for a shock.
His surgeries have also left him without a voice. He communicates now by handwritten notes, improvised sign language and a computer that "speaks" for him. The article reads like the best short fiction: not in its narrative, but in the way little epiphanies are offered by otherwise mundane details. It is heartbreaking and hopeful, not because of Ebert's condition, but because life itself is heartbreaking and hopeful.
There are two outstanding passages quoted from Ebert's online journal that I want to quote:
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 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.
I'm writing "40 Days of Lent" this year because I wanted to quote the second passage online. It should be printed on posters and hung in classrooms, incorporated into speeches, reprinted in anthologies. It should replace the story about the two sets of footprints in the sand. It should be repeated every day. Unfortunately, I'm all teary-eyed now and I'm writing this at work, so I'm going to go answer some emails and schedule some meetings.