What Roger Ebert taught me.

I walked around my house yesterday saying, “No, no, no. Oh, no.” My dogs couldn’t figure out what they’d done wrong. I was reacting to the news of Roger Ebert’s death.

Lots of eloquent people are saying so many graceful things about Ebert, his role in cinema and the American discourse. The number of folks who say he inspired them to get into film is staggering.

I didn’t follow him religiously as a kid. And I don’t work in the movies now. But Roger was always part of the scene, the guy you could trust with an honest and well-formed opinion. In the last few years, I have begun to appreciate him as much, much more.

Roger showed that it was OK to disagree with your friend. He and Gene Siskel proved that you could have a knock-down, drag-out, then turn around with no hard feelings and keep on being pals. They didn’t always agree, and they didn’t have to. They respected each other.

As I have fumbled through trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, I’ve learned more from Roger. He made it cool to be a nerd. He showed that being passionate and smart wasn’t something to be embarrassed about – it was something to be respected. He owned his opinions and his love of movies. And people loved him for it! He wasn’t the suavest guy in the room, but he was authentic. He was the guy you wanted to talk to, the guy you wanted to be.

Two days before he died, I fell down a rabbit hole on Roger’s blog and fell into – and in love with – his post What was my Aunt Martha trying to ask me?. It’s a lovely rumination on his aunts and uncles, the people who quietly and assuredly created the background of his life.

I have a soft spot for Roger’s tales of growing up in Champaign-Urbana – he was a gracious storyteller. And his stories of childhood in what was then a small town resonate with me. This post has a quiet respect for the questions he never got answered about his family, and a poignant acceptance of the mysteries that still surround people we know our entire lives. It’s graceful and telling, and made my heart hurt.

His passing was graceful, and made my heart hurt.

If you haven’t read Roger’s memoir, “Life Itself,” I highly recommend it. It’s a gift. Much like Roger.

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  • Reply Violet April 6, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    I grew up in Champaign-Urbana, too. I didn't know Mr. Ebert but I know many people who knew him or interacted with him in one way or another so, of course, my Facebook feed has exploded with memorials. Every single comment expresses love, respect, and the profound effect Mr. Ebert had on so many people. I am honored to be associated with him in even a remote way and proud that a man from my hometown made an impact on the world – not just for his work, but even more for the decent, respected and respectful, gracious man he was.

  • Reply sherilee April 6, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    A sad day, definitely. Watching his courage through the past decade of health struggles, I've come to really admire him. Going to go download his book now.

    On a brighter note, in my feed reader (yes, still using Google), the headline "What Roger Ebert taught me" was directly above "Don't look like a hooker at prom." Somehow, I think Roger would approve.

  • Reply Gary's third pottery blog April 7, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    I know, def. a cool dude 🙂

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