Roger Ebert’s “I Do Not Fear Death” essay, part of his book that was also published in Salon and reposted this week following his death, contained a lot of helpful, thoughtful words, as was typical of his blog posts over the last few years. There’s a paragraph in there that I think expresses very well the ideal toward which I’ve been striving, which was passed along to me by my mother, though not as eloquently or concisely as this:
I believe that if, at the end, 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.
I have a Shepard Fairey-style picture of Faulkner over my desk with the (paraphrased) quotation “Don’t bother being better than others. Be better than yourself.” I wanted to create one of Ebert with those words on it, and so I took to the Internet to find a suitable picture.
There’s something very interesting about those pictures of Ebert. Following the cancer which took his voice and lower jaw, his face looks very different, of course. Many people might have shied away from the camera, but he did not, so there are a number of “before” and “after” pictures that come up in a Google Image search. The “before” pictures are closer to how I remember him, and in many of these pictures (including the one that heads that Salon article), Ebert is serious, thoughtful, contemplative.
In every one of the “after” pictures I could find, his face is lit up with a bright, happy smile.
This smile, in a man who loved to talk and had had that taken from him, is the perfect image to go with the words he wrote. Even in his last column, “A Leave of Presence,” he looks forward with optimism and determination–with joy.
So I made the below image, using obamapostermaker.com. It’s from a photo that came up in a couple places online and I freely admit I have no idea who owns the copyright; I found it on frisky.com, where they had tagged it, but I found the same image elsewhere without the tag. In any case, I’m not making money off it–if you like the image, feel free to copy it.
Thanks, Mr. Ebert, for all the joy you brought to this world.