Charles Krauthammer, a man who has beaten unbelievable odds and overcome obstacles that would defeat most mortals, has finally encountered one foe over which he says he can’t claim victory.
In a note to readers on Friday, he announced that he has only a few weeks to live following a battle with cancer.
The nobility with which Charles has conducted his life was, as ever, apparent in his brief note. With his customary writer’s concision and his physician’s precision, he explained his circumstances without sentimentality. A tumor had been removed from his abdomen early on, he reported, and though his prospects for recovery had seemed good for a while, the cancer returned and is moving rapidly.
Most people don’t get to say goodbye, and almost none as eloquently. He thanked all who have helped him along the way, including colleagues, as well as his readers and television viewers, “who have made my career possible and given consequence to my life’s work.”
In the final two paragraphs, Charles summed up his life and principles: “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.”
Anyone reading those words must be thinking the same: I hope I can say that someday. Of course, someday is any day, as Charles learned at age 22 when a diving accident left him paralyzed from the neck down.
Undeterred, he completed medical school and became a psychiatrist. Charles later recounted that professors came to his room and projected his lessons on the ceiling over the bed where he lay.
He went to work in government and then political commentary, casting a dispassionate eye on the world around us. Whether in writing or on TV, it never seemed as though Charles had a personal ax to grind. Between his calm demeanor and a probing intellect, he seemed most like an anthropologist remarking upon the fascinating behaviors of an indigenous people.
I was a regular Krauthammer reader before I knew him. I admired him not only because I often agreed with him but also because of his inimitable style and the flow of his logic. There are very few writers — much less doctors — who can write with the artfulness that Charles brought to his column. Nor are there many debaters who could match wits with him.
When I think of Charles, several fond memories come to mind. First, he is a consummate gentleman. He is warm, affectionate and funny. Once, when we were both at the White House toward the end of the George W. Bush administration, he said to me, “We better enjoy this, because I have a feeling it’ll be the last time we’ll see the inside of this place.” Barack Obama had just been elected.
As it turned out, we did see each other inside the White House again not long after when Obama invited us, among others, to an off-the-record meeting. I remember nothing about it other than Charles’s wry smile, the one that often found his face and allowed him to say everything without uttering a word.
Another time we were both invited to the White House, I was stalled at the security gate, unable to convince the guards that I should be allowed to pass. As I was about to leave in frustration, Charles pulled up in his van, winked at me and said to the guard, who obviously knew Charles well: “She’s with me.” Calling out to me, he said, “C’mon, I’ll give you a ride.”
I was as tickled as any girl’s ever been when the coolest guy in the class shows her the slightest attention. This is how I’ll always remember you, Charles, if you’re reading this — as the smartest, handsomest, most dignified gentleman and scholar ever to wield a pen in the pursuit of truth and right ideas.
It is incomprehensible that you are soon to leave us, but I’m not at all surprised that God would need a good shrink.