Today’s Baroque in Hackney post (see my blogroll) is a beautiful tribute to Christopher Hitchens, a man who could set my teeth on edge like almost no other. I come away from Katy’s post with two thoughts in particular. First, about his anti-religion tirade of a book, God is not Great, she says :
…polemically, he demonstrated his position by throwing loads and loads of facts at it, and I ruefully noted that there is not a sentence in the book that would lose meaning if you replaced the word ‘religion’ with ‘human nature’. But his convictions were true convictions and went through him like a stick of rock.
That “stick of rock”–or all of them together–is much of what made me grind my teeth. All that certainty, that immovable sense of rightness helped make Hitchens what he was. But is that always admirable?
Secondly, while going all thoughtful over that image of “a stick of rock,” I am admiring Katy’s observation that applies, I think, as well to people dealing with whatever distress, whether of near-death experience or any other of life’s challenges:
Do you remember, recently I mentioned the idea of occupying one’s own space …? Christopher Hitchens occupied himself utterly, and thus became fearsome. And fearless. Even the cancer that killed him he declared ‘banal’, saying, ‘It bores even me’. He is exemplar, and refused to be sentimentalised by illness.
The New York times quotes him on the possible regret he might feel for the unhealthy life that brought him cancer of the oesophogus:
“Writing is what’s important to me, and anything that helps me do that — or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation — is worth it to me,” he told Charlie Rose in a television interview in 2010, adding that it was “impossible for me to imagine having my life without going to those parties, without having those late nights, without that second bottle.”
The parties, the conversation, the necessity of good talk. Two essays he wrote about his cancer – one, about his diagnosis and admission to the Country of the Sick; and two, the final essay he wrote, about pain, life and dying – demonstrate the power of this remark.
Outside, the rain is turning to snow; the day is cold, drear, forbidding. Seize it. I mean to try. If we learn one thing from the Hitch, it’s that.