Saturday, January 19, 2013

Mortality / Christopher Hitchens

At the beginning of June, 2010, Christopher Hitchens gave a speech at the New York Public Library, and in it he said "One should try and write as if posthumously." Three days later he received his diagnosis of esophageal cancer. Eighteen months after that he left us behind to cope with the intellectual void his death opened up for the still living. When I myself heard of his illness I was greatly saddened, and found myself ever more intrigued with how he would publicly address his own views about life and death, and the afterlife or lack thereof. I scoured YouTube and other sources, and have probably watched and listened to very nearly everything available from Hitchens in those interim months. He continued to bravely debate, lecture, and write -- and I recall him becoming weaker with every appearance, requiring more and more drinks of water between his inimitable sentences. He still had audiences hanging on his every word, myself included, and I have rarely wished more strongly for someone to get better. He ever retained his caustic wit and razor-sharp intellect, even while struggling with the torment of his disease. I found this to be not only admirable, but strikingly brave.
I admired him. I loved him.
And I recall telling my friends that if Christopher Hitchens did in fact die, we would yet see a posthumously published book describing his ordeal. I spent a large part of yesterday reading that very book, Mortality. At a little over 100 pages it can be read in one sitting, even by me [the slowest reader this side of the Rio Grande!]
It is a very moving book. As one might expect, Hitchens does not in any way soften the horrors of what he was going though. This thing is straight up, all the way. Never for a moment does Hitchens suggest there might be something good about dying, and I appreciate that. It was just so searing for me to read of him feeling "swamped with passivity and impotence: dissolving in powerlessness like a sugar lump in water."
It is painful to read this book, yet so relevant, I think. So important, to do so.
The Afterword, written by his wife, reveals facets of Hitchens that few people ever got to see.  A man who loved deeply, and was deeply loved. And is greatly missed.

Like so many of life's varieties of experience, the novelty of a diagnosis of malignant cancer has a tendency to wear off. The thing begins to pall, even to become banal. One can become quite used to the specter of the eternal Footman, like some lethal old bore lurking in the hallway at the end of the evening, hoping for the chance to have a word. And I don't so much object to his holding my coat in that marked manner, as if mutely reminding me that it's time to be on my way. No, it's the snickering that gets me down.
-- Christopher Hitchens, in Mortality -- 


*****

2 comments:

Sam Sattler said...

Nicely put, Cip. Hitch was "THE" man, for sure. I miss just knowing he's out there somewhere calling bullshit when he sees it. He was fearless and had one of the sharpest minds I've ever encountered.

Cipriano said...

Agreed, Sam.
I fear we shall not soon see his like.