About a decade ago, I walked into the local Harris Teeter as a very glum-looking Roger Ebert was exiting. Durham is rather famous as an international diet center and this was in the portlier days of one of America's great film critics. I don't know if he was here for the rice diet or some other, but, within that opulent cathedral of the modern food industry, Ebert, exiting empty handed, looked pathetic. Since I admire him, I didn't want to violate his privacy but sought to cheer him up with a few fan words of praise for his work. He grunted a thank you and trudged past me through the supermarket's sliding doors.
Of course I follow him on Twitter these days. I admire his wit, his wisdom, his politics, and his take on movies and, for that matter, just about everything. I'm a Chicagoan by birth and there's something idealistically pragmatic in his vision which I both embrace in my own work and associate with my hometown.
So I was shocked yesterday when a tweet came from another of his follower's urging us all to read the superb profile of Roger Ebert in this month's Esquire, "The Essential Man," by Chris Jones. Here's the url: http://www.esquire.com/features/roger-ebert-0310
And below, is the amazing cover portrait by Ethan Hill (another blogger reblogged it and I'm reblogging it). As this image makes visible, after a horrifying bout with cancer and more surgeries than he and his wife can keep track of, Ebert no longer has a jaw. He can no longer eat, he can no longer speak.
This knowledge made me weep. Here, I follow him many times a day, looking in on what he is saying as one of my chief, efficient, and upbeat ways of filtering the catastrophes and the promises of the world. Along with about 67,000 others, I use Ebert's vision and his voice--his virtual, digital voice--as my guide. I've found the last months of ridiculous politics enervating, but somehow, filtered through Ebert's wit and ferocity, I've found strength and energy. Ebert tweets: "The Republican Party's Platform for 2010: No." How could you more succinctly summarize the cynical naysaying-tactic of the GOP these days? Perfect.
Terse eloquence and wisdom in 140 characters or less, many times a day, from a man who takes sustenance through a feeding tube, who speaks in Tweets. That is a parable of our time. He tweets: "For Lent I am giving up eating and drinking." When I read that, I had no idea how witty that was, in a mordant sort of way, or how wise, in Zen fashion.
Ebert is an inspiring symbol, a man who refuses to be dispirited in a dispiriting time. That "hopey-changey thing"? When I read Roger Ebert, I know it is going very well after all.
Thank you, Roger Ebert. For your voice. Thank you for keeping hope alive.