It’s hard to put into words my feelings about Roger Ebert’s death right now. What can I say?
Roger Ebert was an extraordinary film critic, beyond a doubt. That, everybody knows. I admired his criticism from when I was very young because of the way he wrote TO the reader. It felt like a conversation of sorts. Besides that, he had such a wonderful, contagious passion for film.
I was thirteen or so when I stumbled across his writing, and I’ve been reading it ever since. It’s a good thing he has written so much; I have a lot more ground to cover. It’s also a good thing that all his writing is so inspired. How can someone write so much and make it all engaging? He was the only film critic I followed almost religiously.
But after I met him, I, surprisingly, admired the man more than the critic. What an awesome human being. He was so kind and caring, always listening, always watching. He knew he had the power to touch people’s lives, and he did so as often as he could, and with such humbleness.
Over time, as we interacted, he became like a second father to me. Not many people understand this, but he was. With his infinite kindness and generosity, he changed my life in more ways than anyone will ever know. He was the only person who made me feel good about being myself.
I can’t organize my thoughts into elegant prose right now. The memories spill out of me in no particular order. I remember his soft hands, and how they felt when they held mine. I remember his eyes and how he smiled with them from behind his glasses, especially at Chaz, his brave, loving wife. I remember how he told my parents that I’d be alright outside of a conventional occupation. I remember how he wrote in my copy of one of his books, “The future is yours.” He was so encouraging. I remember how, in many long e-mail exchanges, he provided me with the most meaningful advice and encouragement I could’ve gotten. And how, in many short e-mail exchanges, he did the same. How he always replied, and never, it seemed, out of obligation. How he was never too busy to do so.
I remember how he played old songs for us from his laptop, tapping his hand to the beat. How he struggled to walk, but never let that stop him. How he typed slowly and yet wrote so frequently and zealously. How enthusiastic he was about his foreign correspondents, and how he, with us, created a kind of small family. I remember how his pants slipped down now and then, and how Chaz would pull them up for him. How warm he made me feel in person. How he stood up for the underdogs and championed the new and unknown. How he was so passionate. How he was so courageous. How he loved life and didn’t fear death. How hopeful he was.
I remember how he inspired without seeming to know it.
Within a few minutes of hearing about his death (my mother and sister woke me up with the news), I found myself crying in my room like I haven’t since my father’s unexpected death two years ago. As I write this, I feel some sort of hollowness; like my life is a little less special. The fact that my father’s death and Roger’s death have affected me in such similar ways only reaffirms how much Roger meant, and still means, to me. My father never got to tell me had faith in my abilities, but Roger reminded me he had that faith every day he could. I am so thankful for him. He has inspired me to live a better life.
He is, simply put, the greatest man I will ever know, and I’m not just saying that because he’s gone. I mean it with immense sincerity, and have known it for a long, long time.
I love you, Roger.
I made the image above for you. I planned on presenting something like it to you at Ebertfest as a thank-you for everything, but I hadn’t even started work on it when I heard you’d left. Now, finished, it’s my way of saying thank you in the best way I know how.