The Essential Man, or, On Being Intentional.

{© Esquire}

{ exclusive feature}

I came across this Esquire profile on Roger Ebert early the Wednesday before last; that weird space when the previous night has ended but the upcoming day has not started quite yet. And--pardon the cliché I'm about to employ--it truly shook me.

I'm from Chicago, so I grew up watching Siskel and Ebert and read Ebert's reviews in the Sun-Times quite often. Even if I didn't always agree with his opinions, I always loved the way he crafted his arguments and the perspectives he brought to the table. I had to stop watching the show after Gene Siskel died; it just wasn't the same once Richard Roeper came on board. And I was truly saddened to hear about Ebert's continuing decline in health. When I heard he lost his jaw to cancer a few years ago, and with it the ability to eat, drink and speak, I was heartbroken for him. "What the hell kind of a life is that?" I wondered.

As it turns out, one that is more essential. More urgent. More intentional.

////These things come to us, they don't come from us, [Ebert] writes about his cancer, about sickness, on another Post-it note. Dreams come from us.

We have a habit of turning sentimental about celebrities who are struck down -- Muhammad Ali, Christopher Reeve -- transforming them into mystics; still, it's almost impossible to sit beside Roger Ebert, lifting blue Post-it notes from his silk fingertips, and not feel as though he's become something more than he was. He has those hands. And his wide and expressive eyes, despite everything, are almost always smiling.

There is no need to pity me, he writes on a scrap of paper one afternoon after someone parting looks at him a little sadly. Look how happy I am.


There has been no death-row conversion. He has not found God. He has been beaten in some ways. But his other senses have picked up since he lost his sense of taste. He has tuned better into life. Some things aren't as important as they once were; some things are more important than ever. He has built for himself a new kind of universe. Roger Ebert is no mystic, but he knows things we don't know.////

Ebert knows he is dying. But rather than hide from the world; rather than shrink away from life; rather than deny the inevitable; he has instead chosen to embrace it all with a kind of ferocity that people half his age and possessing twice his faculties and mobility simply do not.

This all brings me to living a more intentional life. Not just surviving, but living, really living. Embracing everything life has to offer: the good, the bad, the awful. I admit, it's hard to live this way. It's hard to accept that pain, anger, disappointment and death (all kinds of death -- emotional, spiritual, physical) are as much a part of life as beauty, joy, and small, unexpected thrills.

I'm not much of a resolutions kind of a person but my main goal for 2010 and beyond is to be more intentional. (This also hearkens back to Kadiri's essay from last fall, "Speak So You Can Speak Again", where he examines similar themes.) It shouldn't take the specter of death for us to express ourselves however we need to do it; to let the people in our lives know just what exactly they mean to us; to embrace and appreciate life.

////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. (emphasis mine)/////