Friday, December 16, 2011
Christopher Hitchens died yesterday. When I first started writing that sentence, I paused after writing "Christopher Hitchens" and wondered what descriptive would best fit following his name. I came up with a blank. Not because he didn't do any one particular thing well, but rather because he was well known for so many things. Christopher Hitchens, author, journalist, essayist, contrarian, iconoclast, debater, and atheist, died yesterday. There, perhaps that's more accurate.
We all knew this was coming. Hitchens has been ill with oesophageal cancer for some time and in his latest public appearance in Texas in October he appeared incredibly gaunt and looked close to death's door. It is not surprising that was his last public appearance. Dying from cancer is probably not the way anyone would choose to go. It is undoubtedly painful, slow, and involves all sorts of peripheral dysfunction along the way. As Jack Nicholson so aptly puts it in the film The Bucket List: "Some lucky bastard is having a heart attack right now." Yet Hitchens retained his dignity, his intellect, his wit, and his stamina until very near to the end. By all accounts he was still writing while in his hospital room in the last few weeks of life.
Christopher Hitchens was a remarkable man. It would be easy to dislike him, for he refused to engage in the normal apologetic approach that often permeates human interaction. When he held a point of view he let others know, unapolagetically. When he disagreed with someone he most certainly let them know, and again did so unapologetically. I don't believe that he did so in order to be abrasive but rather simply because he was more concerned with rational thought than he was with appearing polite and agreeable. But I did not dislike Hitchens. I most certainly liked what I knew of him from the public arena. His writing is brilliant. If one is able to write one paragraph as well as Hitchens wrote entire books, one would be doing well. I once heard him say in an interview that he estimates he wrote at least 1,000 words a day. Try to do that on any given day and you might succeed. Try to write 1,000 words sewn together with quality, day after day for decades and you may find that you're not up to the task. But Hitchens most certainly was up to the task, all the more impressive considering much of his writing was presumably combined with a good measure of Johnnie Walker, his favourite "amber restorative". Hitchens also made enemies, of course, due to his most recent fame as an atheist author. Anyone who holds a religious position felt the need to defend their position against his relentless attack on the irrational, superstitious beliefs of the religious.
There are a myriad of Hitchens quotes, and many are some of my favourite quotes. One of my favourites seems particularly appropriate to Hitchens' character. Following the death of Jerry Falwell in 2007, Hitchens was quoted as saying that: "Jerry Falwell was so full of shit that if you gave him an enema you could bury what was left in a matchbox."
For Hitchens himself I doubt a boxcar would suffice.