I have long enjoyed the commentary of Charles Krauthammer. A former Democrat, he grew up, and became one of America’s most influential conservative commentators, this despite a life of tragedy– and accomplishment. A medical doctor–a psychiatrist in remission, as he put it–he needed that training. While young, he dove into too-shallow water and broke his neck–instant quadriplegia. Despite that almost unimaginable handicap, he lived a life of consequence, and beat the odds, making it to the age of 68, where his earthly journey will end, as Fox News reports:
I have been uncharacteristically silent these past ten months. I had thought that silence would soon be coming to an end, but I’m afraid I must tell you now that fate has decided on a different course for me.
In August of last year, I underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in my abdomen. That operation was thought to have been a success, but it caused a cascade of secondary complications — which I have been fighting in hospital ever since. It was a long and hard fight with many setbacks, but I was steadily, if slowly, overcoming each obstacle along the way and gradually making my way back to health.
However, recent tests have revealed that the cancer has returned. There was no sign of it as recently as a month ago, which means it is aggressive and spreading rapidly. My doctors tell me their best estimate is that I have only a few weeks left to live. This is the final verdict. My fight is over.
I wish to thank my doctors and caregivers, whose efforts have been magnificent. My dear friends, who have given me a lifetime of memories and whose support has sustained me through these difficult months. And all of my partners at The Washington Post, Fox News, and Crown Publishing.
Lastly, I thank my colleagues, my readers, and my viewers, who have made my career possible and given consequence to my life’s work. I believe that the pursuit of truth and right ideas through honest debate and rigorous argument is a noble undertaking. I am grateful to have played a small role in the conversations that have helped guide this extraordinary nation’s destiny.
I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life — full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.
Dealing with those health issues with little or no feeling below the neck is virtually unimaginable. Perhaps a useful definition of courage or grace is knowing when to fight, and when not to fight, knowing when acceptance is victory. In life, and now, in impending death, Krauthammer is demonstrating both courage and grace. And, as he did for so many, he continues to provoke thought.
There is, in life, no certainty. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. When we’re young that seldom, if ever, occurs to us, and if it does, it’s instantly displaced by the concerns of the moment which seem, while we’re young, so very important. The odds are in our favor. Youth is invulnerability, or at least, rapid healing.
But age catches up with us. In February of 2013, while sitting down to supper one Saturday evening, I suddenly felt as though someone had whacked me on the head. The vision in my left eye became slightly blurry, and I was suddenly aware of my left arm and leg. They worked perfectly, I was just suddenly aware of them; I can’t explain it more lucidly than that. I told Mrs. Manor “Dear, I’ve just had a stroke. We need to go to the ER,” and so we did, and so I had.
In the hospital that night I had no trouble sleeping. I had no fear of death. During my time in the Air Force, and particularly during my police career, I made peace with the possibility of an untimely death. It was certainly not to be desired, but a price I was willing to pay to accomplish greater things, to contribute to something greater than myself.
Oh, I wondered about the extent of the damage, wondered if there might be another, damned serious stroke any minute, but ultimately made my prayers and my peace, and slept. I awoke the next morning, and was back to work on Tuesday.
The stroke was the result of A-fib, diagnosed about eight months earlier, and for the first time in 59 years, I was dependent on daily medications for my very existence. I avoided even aspirin up until that point, but I sighed, accepted the new reality, and went on. In the article I wrote back in 2013 after the stoke, I observed:
It’s also a reminder that as much as we fight to be in absolute charge of our lives, we’re not. We never were. All that we’ve learned, all that we’ve experienced, all that we are, all of the kindness and love we have not shared, all of it and more can vanish in an instant. Of course, as in Adam, all die, but when is too soon? As a veteran and police officer, I made my peace with the possibility of untimely death long, long ago. Intellectually, I know it can happen at any time. Spiritually, I’m ready. But as a fallible, weak human being, I’d like to stick around at least a bit longer. Teach more, sing more, learn more, read more, annoy statists, finish my pushups…
The older we become, the awareness, the inevitability of death, becomes more present, more real. We all know people who have, toward the end, died long before their deaths. Death becomes an obsession, crushing the joy of living. All that remains for them is waiting for the shutdown of the biological machine. We know, too, others who live every moment as fully as possible, despite illness, despite all manner of other adversity. Such people anticipate death no less than others, they just know where they’re going, and accept–gratefully–what time they have left. Every day is a gift, for which I give thanks. I further observed:
Perhaps the most important lesson that came to me as I was studiously prevented from sleeping this weekend (that’s obviously the prime directive of hospital care), is the most meaningful thing we can strive to be is useful servants of God. Simple, isn’t it, yet we strive for a lifetime, however long that might be.
It has been famously said “death is light as a feather; duty is hard,” and so it is. Who has not, upon occasion, thought of the peace, the relief, of laying down all earthly burdens, of being done with every obligation, every duty? But it is in duty, however we have constructed it, that we prepare our legacy, that we leave something meaningful, something lasting, behind. It is in duty that we touch the souls of others, and shape our own souls.
For me, fame, fortune, public notoriety hold little meaning. I would hope, above all, those I leave would think themselves better, perhaps blessed in at least some small way, that I had some part in their lives. If that’s a small circle as opposed to a large one, it matters not at all.
I hope Charles Krauthammer has come to know God, as have I. I pray he will experience the peace that passeth all understanding. I pray that when my time comes, I will approach it with grace and courage, and that those left behind will see my passing as a matter of joy, of completed duty, and a legacy of kindness and love. I have a few more things I’d like to accomplish–pushups to do, miles to ride, music to perform, words to write–but my plans are nothing compared with His. So I’ll take the time I have left–however long that might be–and do my best to live as the Lord would have me live.
Charles Krauthammer: a life well lived.
What more can any of us hope? What more can any of us ask?