Two weeks ago I wrote a column entitled “That Ain’t Nothin’” (TAN) about the human tendency toward one upmanship. (You can read it at /ritafinchpettit/2018/06/that-aint-nothin.html.) The TAN game can be summed up this way: Your story will never be as bad or as good as mine. Alas, we all seem to suffer from it from time to time.
Except for Charles Krauthammer.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Krauthammer, the conservative columnist who passed away last week. For all I know he might have said “That ain’t nothin’,” a time or two (although he would have said, “That’s nothing,” just to be grammatically correct), but the tributes written by colleagues and friends lead me to believe his focus was always on others, not himself.
(Go to http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2018/06/21/charles-krauthammer-conservative-commentator-and-pulitzer-prize-winner-dead-at-68.html for Mr. Krauthammer’s obituary.)
Certainly Charles Krauthammer had more right to say “That ain’t nothin’,” than 99.9% of us. He was 22, in his first year at Harvard Medical School, when a diving accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. He completed medical school anyway—-with his classmates, no less—-and went on to become a psychiatrist.
Mr. Krauthammer then changed directions, moving to Washington, D.C., and becoming a speechwriter for Vice President Walter Mondale during President Jimmy Carter’s re-election bid. When Carter and Mondale lost he became editor of The New Republic, then a columnist for The Washington Post. In recent years he had appeared on Fox News as a commentator.
Along the way he collected awards, including the Edwin Dunlop Prize for excellence in psychiatric research and clinical medicine, the Pulitzer Prize and the National Magazine Award. In addition, his 2013 book, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics was a New York Times bestseller.
Unless you’re a blind quadruple amputee who’s won a prize in each of the Nobel categories while fighting off an alien invasion, I don’t think you could win a TAN match against him.
Not that he would have wanted to play.
The recurring theme in the reminiscences of those who knew and loved Charles Krauthammer is that he had no interest in talking about himself. He preferred to ask how other people were doing, checking in about their children, their parents, even their pets. And he certainly did not brag about his achievements or clobber folks with his intellect.
I’ve had Things That Matter on my reading list since it was released and finally borrowed it from the library when I learned Mr. Krauthammer had died. In writing about his accident and his subsequent journey through medical school ("Hermann Lisco: Man for All Seasons," The Washington Post, August 25, 2000), he doesn’t focus on his struggle in the face of overwhelming odds. Instead he writes a beautiful eulogy for Dr. Lisco, the Harvard professor who arranged for his instruction to continue throughout his hospitalization and rehabilitation.
He closes the column this way:
"And now, just short of 90, he is gone. Those who were touched by this man, so wise and gracious and goodly, mourn him. I mourn a man who saved my life."
On June 8, Charles Krauthammer saw fit to share his grim prognosis in a letter to his viewers and readers, colleagues and friends. The last lines are an eloquent summation of a life well lived.
“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.” (Copyright 2018, The Washington Post)
Shalom, Charles Krauthammer. You will be missed.