As people throughout several on-line communities post their expressions of sadness on the passing of film critic Roger Ebert, I went looking back over some of his writings and posts, and found this amazing quote.
It comes not from Ebert himself, but from a letter that Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, around June 9, 1888:
Looking at the stars always makes me dream, as simply as I dream over the black dots representing towns and villages on a map.
Why, I ask myself, shouldn’t the shining dots of the sky be as accessible as the black dots on the map of France?
Just as we take a train to get to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to reach a star. We cannot get to a star while we are alive any more than we can take the train when we are dead. So to me it seems possible that cholera, tuberculosis and cancer are the celestial means of locomotion. Just as steamboats, buses and railways are the terrestrial means.
To die quietly of old age would be to go there on foot.
I’ve recently been visiting with a friend in hospice, someone who won’t be traveling “on foot,” but rather is taking one of those “celestial means of locomotion.” Amidst the vulnerability, turmoil and pain of illness itself, this person has such clarity and calm anticipation of the view forward to their approaching transition.
We’re all just visitors here. And then, back to the stars.