He reminded us you can change your party, as he did from Democrat to Republican, and your mind, as he did on the efficacy of the welfare state, if you apply your intellect to the world around you. You can start in one profession (psychiatry for him) and find your life’s calling in another. And you need not, should not, let a party or a cause define your own thinking. Eclecticism is challenging and engaging, partisan idolatry boring and infuriating.
Thankfully, he left us hundreds upon hundreds of columns and speeches — and goodness knows how many hours of TV commentary. (You can just fast-forward through everyone else to hear his wry observations; you do wonder why they put anyone else on the set with him.)
As the lyrics from “Hamilton” go, he wrote like he was running out of time. Every word and every moment counted. And that, too, is a lesson. By pure coincidence (or not), Britain’s former chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks put out a column, on the day Charles died, on the Torah portion of the week, Hukat, which focuses on mortality. Sacks writes:
On the one hand, no man is a god. No one is infallible. There is no life without error and shortcoming. That is why it was so important to note, in the parsha that deals with mortality, Moses’ sin. … Moses was human, all-too-human, yet he was the greatest prophet who ever lived (Deut. 34:10).On the other hand, the idea that we are mere dust and nothing more — insects, scum, slime mold, a ripple in the cosmic data flow — must rank among the most foolish ever formulated by intelligent minds. No insect ever became a Voltaire. No chemical scum became a chemist. No ripple in the data flow wrote international bestsellers. Both errors — that we are gods or we are insects — are dangerous. Taken seriously they can justify almost any crime against humanity. Without a delicate balance between Divine eternity and human mortality, Divine forgiveness and human error, we can wreak much destruction — and our power to do so grows by the year.Hence, the life-changing idea of Hukat: We are dust of the earth, but there is within us the breath of God. We fail, but we can still achieve greatness. We die, but the best part of us lives on.
Charles indisputably achieved greatness, and we pray his intellectual integrity, curiosity, wit and largeness of spirit will continue as a North Star for those who loved and admired him. Do yourself a favor and read through past columns and listen to the reminisces of colleagues.