On Thursday, Pulitzer Prize-winning conservative powerhouse Dr. Charles Krauthammer lost his battle to cancer at 68 years old. With the tragic announcement came a flood of well-wishes and warm memories shared from those touched by Krauthammer's significant life.
As those who have followed Krauthammer's career know, the intellectual giant suffered a freak spinal cord injury when he was just 22 years old and became mostly paralyzed for life. Despite the devastating injury, he finished his medical degree on time and became a monumental political influence, starting from the Left side of the aisle and moving to the Right.
A letter penned by Krauthammer to a man he met at a political gathering in Washington, D.C., who would later also suffer a spinal cord accident that left him paralyzed, perfectly highlights Krauthammer's resilient spirit and blazing compassion for others.
The recipient of the letter is the father of TIME magazine journalist Nash Jenkins, who shared the story via Twitter soon after the announcement of Krauthammer's passing.
"I would like to share a story about Charles Krauthammer," started Jenkins. "In October 2016, my dad met Krauthammer and Robert Reich at a thing in Washington. I'm not sure exactly what the thing was, but they chatted for awhile after. My dad's a geek for this stuff, so he got a photo and posted it to Instagram."
"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," said Jenkins. "I looked it up and learned that in his first year of medical school at Harvard, Krauthammer was in a swimming accident that left him largely paralyzed. Despite this, he found success as a psychiatrist and then as a political writer," he said, adding: "'Still,' I remember thinking, 'how sad.'"
The journalist then explained that his father had an accident on June 25 of last year.
"My dad is now 56, but up until that point he had been pathologically active — in this case, he was surfing in Nicaragua. A wave had crashed on him and slammed him to the bottom. He quickly realized he couldn't move," he explained. "To abbreviate a long story that's still very painful: after a 48-hour trip from the jungle to Managua to the neurosurgical hospital at UNC, my dad learned that he had broken his neck and severed his spinal cord. He was and remains paralyzed from the chest down; doctors told him very candidly that he'd never walk again."
Jenkins said that he distinctly remembered an email Krauthammer sent his dad. Here's the letter in its entirety:
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.
"There is no playbook for coping with spinal cord injuries. They're statistically rare. Support networks are limited at best. But in a year that has been defined by uncertainty and emotional exhaustion, that letter has meant the world to my dad and to us," said Jenkins. "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."
The journalist concluded, "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."