The world lost a great man last week in his battle with cancer. I never met Charles Krauthammer, but through his literary work and commentary over the last few decades I felt like I came to know the kind of man he was. What intrigued me the most was that he achieved his many accolades after becoming confined to a wheelchair following a diving accident at 22.
Krauthammer, a Pulitzer Prize winner, Harvard-trained psychiatrist and best-selling author, was known to the world as the dean of conservative commentators. He spoke and wrote eloquently with surgical skill, getting to the heart of any debate quickly, while still keeping his wit and dry sense of humor intact.
Born in 1950 in New York, he was raised in a devout Jewish family. Throughout his life, he embraced a strong personal constitution that kept him determined and resilient, even in the face of extraordinary adversity. He spent most of his life confined to a wheelchair, the result of a snap decision — when he was 22 years old and a first-year medical student at Harvard – to go for a quick swim with a friend before a planned game of tennis. He hit his head at precisely the right angle where all the force was placed on the cervical vertebrae which severed the spinal cord. Unable to move, Krauthammer knew instantly the consequences of the accident.
That didn’t stop him, though. Krauthammer was not going to let being in a wheelchair define him. As soon as he could after the accident, he forged full steam ahead with his studies, finishing medical school at the top of his class (and with his class) and going on to do a three-year residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he wrote a paper on “secondary mania,” which garnered wide accolades.
He soon realized his life’s work and passion was not in health care, and pursued philosophical and political arenas in Washington, D.C., ending up as a speech writer for Democrat Walter Mondale during Jimmy Carter’s re-election campaign. He soon became a writer for The New Republic winning a large audience. Krauthammer became a best-selling author for his book, “Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics,” instantly becoming a New York Times bestseller.
Throughout his life, Krauthammer showed himself to be generous, warm, and considerate as he overcame adversities you and I will (hopefully) never face. In his mild-mannered, steady and precision manner, not too unlike his background in psychiatry and detailed analysis of human behavior, he was able to get to the crux of debate while at the same time listening to other points of view.
Krauthammer downplayed all his accolades and was openly candid and witty about his quirks. To all though, he was a model of civility, strong in his convictions, soft with his words, principled and respectful of other views. To achieve what he achieved while facing innumerable obstacles and enter the other side with kindness and civility tells the true measure of Charles Krauthammer was.
The world needs more of what Charles Krauthammer possessed, for sure. He will be missed.
“Adversity is always unexpected and unwelcomed. It is an intruder and a thief, and yet in the hands of God, adversity becomes the means through which His supernatural power is demonstrated.” (Charles Stanley)