An elegant and kind man with a poet’s touch

roger_ebertRoger Ebert, who died yesterday, began blogging in earnest some years back after cancer robbed him of speech. He racked up millions of hits and every post generated hundreds of comments.  I’ve written about him a few times. From March of 2010:

I discovered his blog a few months ago and was enchanted – a fine writer, a profoundly human man and very very brave. He’s wasting away from cancer – can no longer speak or eat. He doesn’t even have a jaw anymore. And yet he blogs. And he cares. And he has his finger on the pulse of the humanity that is us. I wish I knew him.

Roger Ebert’s Journal was much more than movies; while he chronicled the challenges of his illness he also wrote – always elegantly – of so many other things – of politics, music, art, children and cooking.

He and I were born in the same year, so when he wrote of his own youth, which he often did – as often happens with those battling terminal illnesses – I went back in time with him. Like in this passage from a very recent post titled “How I am a Roman Catholic”:

The nuns at St. Mary’s were Dominicans. They lived in a small square convent behind the school, holding six nuns (some taught two grades) and a cook and their housekeeping nun, who kept a sharp eye trained on us through her screen door. We had humble playground equipment, a swing set and two basketball hoops. Our principal sport was playing King of the World. This involved two boys standing on a log, each trying to push the other off. The housekeeper would open the screen door and shout, “If you break your necks, you have only yourselves to blame.”

It was from these nuns, especially Sister Nathan and Sister Rosanne, that I learned my core moral and political principles. I assumed they were Roman Catholic dogma. Many of them involved a Social Contract between God and man, which represented classical liberalism based on empathy and economic fairness. We heard much of Leo XIII’s encyclical “Rerum Novarum”–“On Capital and Labor.”

I’ll miss him and his writing but I’ll go back now and again to the archives. There is wisdom there.

10 responses to “An elegant and kind man with a poet’s touch

  1. A very nice summation, Moe. His passing is the world’s loss.

    I was curious about his cruel cancer and went to his Wiki bio to see if it might have derived from tobacco, but found nothing. I regret that society is so reluctant to discuss such things publicly. I guess it derives from not wanting to taint someone’s seemingly perfect profile, but given Ebert’s candor and perspicacity I’m confident he would approve of airing the mistakes with the successes.

    Our oldest son, who lives far away, visited us recently and admitted that he had begun smoking again because of “stress” in his life. Now 50, he has smoked for most of his life, and even when he had quit he still used snuff. Just one look at Roger Ebert would be enough to scare me off that stuff, even if it had no role with his cancer because I know it has with others’. My father died from smoking at age 58. I quit at age 35, cold turkey.

    After being disfigured by surgery, Roger Ebert said,

    Also in April 2007, in an interview with WLS-TV in Chicago, he said, “I was told photos of me in this condition would attract the gossip papers — so what?” On April 23, the Sun-Times reported that, when asked about his decision to return to the limelight, Ebert remarked, “We spend too much time hiding illness.”

    Two thumbs up for that, Roger, and amen.


    • An obit at the Sun Times says “He had been in poor health over the past decade, battling cancers of the thyroid and salivary gland.” Never heard of cancer of the salivary gland . . .

      Take comfort about your son though Jim, I smoked for 50 years – quit about a decade ago and I feel fine and the doc always pronounces my lungs as just fine. Remarkably, after all the abuse we smokers heap upon them, the lungs recover whether we deserve it or not!


  2. Well done Moe. In my Friday OITS, I linked one of my favorite blog posts that he did.


  3. I had nuns like that too. Fine women who instilled a social conscience by teaching us that salvation must be EARNED by being honest and empathetic contributing members of society. Certainly, they tolerated no nonsense but I’ve never understood comments about ‘mean nuns.’


    • Pat – that’s my memory too. Of course we all encountered a few ‘meanies’, just like in any population. But they were the exception. I also love remembering how casual recess was . . . we just ran outside and played with whatever was at hand.


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