Roger Ebert inspires me. He used to inspire me to go out and see a movie based on his reviews, but now he inspires me on a completely different level. I just read Roger Ebert: The Essential Man in this month’s Esquire and learned about Ebert’s story. In 2002, he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and had surgery to remove the tumors. A year later, he had to have his salivary glands removed, as they too became cancerous. Over the next five years, he underwent dozens of surgeries to try to completely beat cancer. In 2006, his doctors had to remove a portion of his lower jaw, as his cancer had spread there. As he was going to leave the hospital after a successful surgery, his carotid artery ripped and he almost bled out in the hospital.
The resulting surgery saved his life, but took his voice. It also took his ability to eat and drink. He cannot remember the last thing he said, the last thing he ate or the last thing he drank, although he assumes it was probably water in the hospital. Since 2006, Ebert has had many reconstructive surgeries to try to allow him to regain his speech and the ability to eat and drink. After short-lived successes and painful rehabilitation, each surgery failed. His voice was gone for good.
Now, Ebert, who was famous for his weekly TV show, can only communicate through post it notes, typed communication, rudimentary gestures and basic sign language. Many people would be extremely depressed and who could blame them? Not Roger Ebert. He writes on a scarp paper during in an interview for the feature in Esquire, “There is no need to pity me. Look how happy I am.”
After coming to grips with not being able to speak, Ebert turned to the written word. He started writing a journal on his website, first to “apologize to his fans for not being able to come to Ebert-fest” and later as a way to express himself on just about any topic. If you read his journal entries, you will see that Ebert is an amazing writer who philosophizes about all sorts of amazing topics. Since 2008, Ebert has thrown himself into writing to continue to communicate with people around the world. He has written over 500,000 words and responds to most of the thousands of comments that readers submit on his entries. Ebert writes “It is saving me. When I am writing my problems become invisible and I am the same person I always was. All is well. I am as I should be.”
Ebert inspires me because his positive attitude shines through, even though he has faced more adversity than a person should have to face in their life. He still reviews movies and writes amazing reviews, but he has found a new outlet that lets him express himself in his own way, not how the world thinks he should. He still goes out to dinner with his wife and his friends, even though he cannot eat. For many, this would be the worst torture, but Ebert doesn’t think so. When one of his friends apologizes for raving about the food in front of him, Ebert writes a note that says “No, no. You’re eating for me.” Ebert is amazing because he has adapted to the challenges in his life and embraced the good and tried to forget about the bad. I love Ebert’s personal philosophy and wish more people thought this way:
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.
If more people did, the world would be a better place. There are so many amazing aspects of Ebert’s journey toward this realization. He would not have been able make many of these discoveries without the help of technology. The Internet has allowed him to interact with interesting people and reach the masses, from the comfort of his favorite chair in his home in Chicago. A company in Scotland has helped him create a personalize text-speech tool that actually sounds like his voice, so he does not have to sound like a machine for the rest of his life. Technology has given him the ability to reach me and inspire me. I am glad I live in an era where people can have a positive influence on the world, regardless of the condition of their body. If you have access to a computer and the Internet, you truly can change the world.