Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Roger Ebert Discusses His Own Mortality

Roger Ebert BlvdImage by .m.e.c. via Flickr

For those of you who neither live in Chicago nor devour columns by film critics you may have missed that Roger Ebert went off the air after complications from thyroid cancer surgery left him unable to speak a few years ago. He has still been quite creative and continues to write his syndicated column hosted by the Chicago Sun-Times.

He also has been blogging since April 2008 and just last month he published a fascinating piece about his reflections on his own mortality. The article is filled with many references to various poets, authors and painters, but only one documentary curiously. The title of the piece references the famous poem by Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night." He starts boldly with his lack of concern about what happens after death based on an Epicurean philosophy.
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.
Some of the other interesting passages (but really go read it in full):
I have no quarrel with what anyone else subscribes to; everyone deals with these things in his own way, and I have no truths to impart.
What I expect will most probably happen is that my body will fail, my mind will cease to function, and that will be that. My genes will not live on, because I have had no children. Perhaps I have been infertile. If I discover that somewhere along the way I conceived a child, let that child step forward and he or she will behold a happy man. Through my wife, I have had stepchildren and grandchildren, and I love them unconditionally, which is the only kind of love worth bothering with.
In a moment or a few years, maybe several, I will encounter what Henry James called, on his deathbed, "the Distinguished Thing." I may not be conscious of the moment of passing. I have already been declared dead. It wasn't so bad.
It would be nice if we had more open discussions about our own mortality. You will hear that all the time from any hospice or palliative care professional. I think this piece is also notable for a positive reflection on death from an atheist/agnostic perspective, which I have heard some hospice staff at times wonder aloud how one would approach death peacefully. Regardless of your religious or philosophical beliefs Roger Ebert demonstrates a mature, wise approach to his own mortality and I think it is something we could all learn from.

Take a read of the 500+comments as well.
Read this take on Ebert's post to see how it inspired others to reflect on their mortality.
Just because I wanted to here are all the artists mentioned in the post. (Almost a Pallimed: Arts & Humanities post by itself):
Edgar Allen Poe, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, Vincent Van Gogh, Albert Camus, Thomas Wolfe, Cormac McCarthy, William Shakespeare, Saul Bellow, Brendan Behan, Henry James, Herge, e.e. cummings, Matthew Arnold, WB Yeats, Theodore Roethke, and DH Lawrence.
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