Like many conservatives, I'm bereft at the loss of Charles Krauthammer, an irreplaceable giant of political commentary. His audience has been well aware of his prodigious intellect and mastery of words for many years. But as tributes began to pour in following Krauthammer's recent announcement about his terrible prognosis, many Americans have gleaned new insight into the other element of the man that made him truly extraordinary: His uncommon kindness. One illustration of his character stopped me in my tracks and moved me to tears yesterday, shortly after news of the Pulitzer Prize winner's death was publicly reported. It was relayed by a journalist at Time magazine:
Until I saw that photo, I'd had no idea that Krauthammer was in a wheelchair. I just knew him as the pundit that conservatives of an older generation (like my dad) revered.— Nash Jenkins (@pnashjenkins) June 21, 2018
Jenkins goes on to write that he investigated why Krauthammer was confined (or perhaps unconfined) to a wheelchair, discovering the account of how the then-medical student was paralyzed in a diving accident as a young man. "How sad," Jenkins recalls thinking at the time. A few years after that photo was taken, Jenkins' father suffered a devastating injury while surfing:
For my sisters and me, those first two weeks remain foggy — those memories are shrouded in a patina of grief, confusion, fear, and, in my case, jetlag (I'd flown back from Hong Kong once we realized the severity of the injury.)— Nash Jenkins (@pnashjenkins) June 21, 2018
Dear Mr. Jenkins,
I heard about your accident. I'm so sorry. I enjoyed meeting you last year and am deeply sympathetic to your new and most harrowing situation. As you know, I've been there.
I know full well how difficult things are at the beginning and often how hopeless they seem. I also do know what's possible. And it turns out to be quite a lot.
I don't pretend it's everything. But a good and productive and deeply enjoyable life is possible. What it required in my case was the simple determination to keep going in the direction I was headed. I found that I could do psychiatry and then a journalism career at a totally even par with my colleagues.
Your accident is occurring much later in life than mine. (I was 22.) Which presents its own challenges. On the other hand, you have so many years of experience and much respect and admiration from friends, colleagues and family accumulated over a lifetime. They will serve you well and help you through what will, at first, be significant challenges.
I write you because I know the challenges firsthand. I know how discouraging they can be initially. But I also know, with absolute certainty, that they can be accommodated and even overcome and that a good life is possible.
I'm fully aware of how terribly discouraging it is to have to put in twice the effort for gains that seem so meager at the beginning. But I can assure you that it can be done. And then it is rewarded.
I don't mean to sugarcoat things. Life is more difficult with a spinal cord injury. But the obstacles are not insurmountable.
I know this is all scant consolation, and it is not really meant [as] that. It is simply meant to give you a different perspective on your future. Mine is from the rearview mirror. I know what actually can be. I also know that, for me, so soon after your accident, it is prospective -- you are looking into a future that is necessarily unclear to you. I wish only to assure you from my own experience of 45 years post-accident that it can be a very good life indeed.
I hope this is helpful. I wish you all the best in your recovery.
Jenkins' moving conclusion:
I always wanted to thank Mr. Krauthammer for that, and am ashamed that I never did. It was a voice of lucid hope at a time when my family needed it more than anything. I will always be so grateful for it.— Nash Jenkins (@pnashjenkins) June 21, 2018
I guess I don't really care about his politics right now — there will be others to eulogize and critique. I'm writing this because Charles Krauthammer knew what to say at a time when virtually no one did, and he took the time to say it, and it meant so so much.— Nash Jenkins (@pnashjenkins) June 21, 2018
Charles' runaway bestselling book was called, Things That Matter. Well, this mattered. He mattered. Rest in peace, Dr. Krauthammer. I'll leave you with an homage that the great thinker would likely have treasured most: