Last night, December 15th, right before I was to go to sleep, I happened to glance at my Facebook newsfeed and saw an old friend post a status update that simply said the name of Christopher Hitchens, sandwiched by several heart symbols. I knew without further elaboration that Hitchens was gone. I remembered the announcement of his cancer diagnosis, and had watched miserably as pictures and videos of the man featured a progressively more weak and skeletal figure. I knew he was dying, and to see his name pop up in so plain a way I knew meant that he was gone.
I knew immediately that I wasn’t going to get a decent night’s sleep. Hitchens’ death was something that I had to process. The first step of Kübler-Ross model is denial, and my immediate reaction to hearing of Hitchens’ death was to get out of bed and watch videos of his interviews and debates for an hour on YouTube. Seeing him alive, talking, allowed me for a brief moment to deny that he was gone.
It goes without saying that I felt furious at a world without Hitchens, saw the futility of trying to bargain, became depressed and have stayed so for the past 24 hours.
I spent my day at work alternating between holding back tears and desperate attempts to explain to my coworkers who exactly the world had lost, only to have them simply say “oh, he was that atheist.” It was crushing. I spent my lunch break hidden in the storage closet because it was the only place in the entire building I could go to get away. I listened to Pistol Bitch in my headphones and read articles by Hitchens on my phone. It felt appropriate to listen to Pistol Bitch because I remember after Jerry Falwell’s death, the two people I had heard denounce him publicly were Greg Edmondson, the singer of Pistol Bitch, and Christopher Hitchens.
The two will always be linked in my mind because while Greg and Hitch are two very different people, they were always at their best and most in their element criticizing a hateful, disgusting bigot like Falwell.
Hitchens’ “The Trial of the Will” was not only a powerful piece but resonated for me — as I’m sure it must have for many — as someone who cared for a loved one dying of cancer. Hitchens’ description of his cancer treatments and its psychological effects on him aren’t the first time that he has reminded me of my father. As his weight and hair were stripped away from him by his cancer and the treatments he was receiving for it I often noticed that he was starting to look like my father.
I never met Hitchens personally, so I leave the job of memorializing him to better equipped men. Christopher Buckley does an amazing job encapsulating a man that I am miserable to say I’ll never know and I can’t recommend enough reading the piece.
I’m not depressed because I’ve lost a friend. I’m not even sad that I’ve lost a favorite author. Hitch was prolific — it’s unlikely I’ll get around to reading his entire body of work before I die — so it would seem silly to be miserable that he won’t be putting out more material when I may never finish I am sad that the human race has lost of a voice of reason, truth, and beauty. By his honesty and his power Hitch elevated the consciousness of our species. He was a rising tide lifting all boats.
It goes without saying that I disagreed with Hitch on many issues. As someone who abhors drinking, smoking, and eating animals, I often found myself grossed out by his unabashed indulgence in all three. I was opposed to the invasion of Iraq, and believe that the United States cannot advocate nuclear non-proliferation until we take serious steps to dismantle our own nuclear arsenal, both points on which he and I would disagree.
My occasional disagreements notwithstanding, I do not think I could praise Hitch highly enough. This isn’t because I can’t find the words, but because I am not good enough to give him his due. I would need to be half the man that Hitch was in order for my praise to be worth offering up, and I don’t know that I would be half the man that a cancer-suffused 62 year old Hitch was if I lived to be 602 years old. Who am I to judge Hitch? Who am I to praise or laud him?
So when I say that Hitch was a rising tide I’m not really speaking to Hitch himself; I’m just trying to tell the story of a boat on that tide. I could never speak to Hitch’s character, to his grit, his backbone. I have no more authority to praise him than I do to give out A+ grades on particle physics papers at MIT.
But for my own part, I can say that Hitch represents all the virtues that I could ever hope to have. He never spoke anything except what he had every conviction to be the truth, he never let himself be bullied. But more importantly, he never lowered himself in order to make his point. He answered ignorance with erudition, emotional shrieking with cool reason. He refused to speak to people as though they were as stupid as they actually are, but spoke to them as though they were smart enough to see the truth that they often weren’t smart enough to see. He was the embodiment of human intellect, razor-sharp criticism, logic, precision, and the perfectly timed, immaculately delivered polemic takedown.
I am not worthy to say anything except, rest in peace Hitch.
“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.”-Christopher Hitchens
I tattooed Hitch’s initials and date of death on my wrist.