5 years ago I sent an email to Roger Ebert and he wrote me back.
The questions included in my message were, looking back, painfully unsubstantial and nearly pointless, yet the man actually took time off and answered each and every one of them.
I still have the response printed in my room.
4 months before he passed away, I left a comment on one of his Journal entries. My writing was no longer pretentious and I was, by the mercy of God, past the point where I had lofty aspirations of being noticed by the wonder of my prose.
I simply wrote to him what was in my heart. I, like everybody else, wanted him to get better.
His 6 word reply to my message is one that I will always carry with me.
“I want to be like you”, Ebert wrote.
I nearly cried right there, and I cried the day after his leave of presence went up and his passing was in the news everywhere.
I have never cried and doubt I will ever again for the death of somebody I did not even know.
But I really do feel as if the power of his words and paragraphs was so that it did not matter if one read him on a computer screen thousands of miles away, or listened to him at a World Conference. It reached out and touched your soul, and even if limited, you still got to know him.