It wasn’t easy to notice.
Not an apparent thing.
Many were surprised when they met him.
Charles Krauthammer, the brilliant essayist and Fox News commentator who gave up a promising career in medicine to enter the world of journalism and political ideas, was in a wheelchair most of his life.
When he was in his first year at Harvard Medical School, Krauthammer dove into a swimming pool and hit his head on the bottom.
It was a freak accident. While his head was uninjured, the force severed his spinal cord.
Krauthammer was in the hospital 14 months. The event changed his life forever. It did not diminish his determination to live life to its fullest.
“You can be hopeless and despairing,” he observed years later, “or you can live your life. And to me, there was basically no option.”
After graduating from Harvard near the top of his class and distinguishing himself in the field of psychiatry, young Charles decided to embark on an entirely different path. Appreciating the importance of politics and the difference it made, he chose to write about it. Beginning in the 1980s, Krauthammer wrote for The New Republic, The Washington Post and Time Magazine. He also appeared on the PBS news program Inside Washington.
In 1987, Krauthammer was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
Later, he joined the Fox News nightly program Special Report with Bret Baier.
He was an instant star.
Krauthammer’s powerful intelligence was so impressive, his physical disability was an unrecognized irrelevance. Always persuasive, calm, confident, dignified, thoughtful and erudite, he made viewers forget he was in a wheelchair – if they knew at all.
Though possessed of an engaging sense of humor, he could be intimidating in his serious, finely-tuned and flowing articulation.
He was never weak, never wishy-washy. He didn’t care if you agreed with him. Life was of most supreme value when one spoke one’s mind without apology or equivocation on Things That Matter (the title of an essay collection published in 2013).
He treasured words.
They were his gift – and his gift to the world.
Krauthammer used words to make cogent and reasonable arguments, to advance his view of the world and to compel his audience – both viewers and readers – to think and sometimes to think again.
His own circuitous political journey from a liberal campaign aide for Walter Mondale (“I was young once”) to principled and fair-minded conservative helped to give his views – and his manner of expressing them – a depth and insight rare for television punditry in the age of fast-talking air-heads.
Language as art has been in steady decline for years. Social media have often reduced communication to dismissive grunts as we stare at a small lighted screen and thumb-type for entertainment.
College freshmen require remedial education in basic English they should have learned in grammar school.
In both politics and religion, public speaking has become trite, shallow, often coarse, seldom inspiring. The bar is lowered, the standard dismissed and smoke and lights have taken the place of serious and passionate exposition. Speakers need props – even if it’s a water bottle. Eloquence is disappearing and oratory is suspect. Convictions and principles seem quite beside the point.
Charles Krauthammer was a standout exception to these trends.
He understood that abbreviation of speech led to abbreviation of thought.
In a time of deep divisions, he appealed to reason. In an age of banality, he exhibited excellence. In a culture of complaint, he illustrated quiet grace in the face of physical suffering and serious limitations.
His essays could be moving. His tribute to older brother Marcel and his ode to a beloved dog that died inexplicably young were beautifully touching.
He never raised his voice on television, no matter how heated the discussion. Perhaps that would have been physically difficult for him, but I like to think he wouldn’t have anyway.
You were drawn to his arguments, not his histrionics. You listened to Charles Krauthammer. You wanted to hear what this man had to say – in part because he always said it so incredibly well.
Krauthammer, a secular Jew, did not profess an orthodox faith in God.
“I don’t believe in God, but I fear him greatly,” he was fond of saying. He marveled at the awe and mystery of the universe and wondered about the implausibility of it all. He admitted to “a complicated view of deity.”
The Bible declares that the fool has said in his heart there is no God. Krauthammer was no fool and dismissed the atheist argument as “the least plausible” of all theologies – as cold and soulless.
The idea of a divine Creator who stands behind the order of the cosmos and directs it, Krauthammer said, is a mystery that “deserves reverence and awe.”
Perhaps Charles Krauthammer’s reverence for the unknown mysteries of an almighty God would serve worshippers far better than a Sunday morning Happy Hour.
God must have appreciated CK’s reverence for the word.
In the beginning God spoke creation into being. “In the beginning”, John wrote “ was the Word”(John 1:1).
“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).
When Charles Krauthammer left us too soon, after a brave battle with cancer, he left a legacy of golden words fitly-spoken that remains timeless in its enduring testimony to the power of persuasive expression.
A pen mightier than any sword.
Thank you Charles. You will be missed.
“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.”
From Charles Krauthammer’s farewell letter, announcing that he had only weeks to live, June 8, 2018