Considering Christopher Hitchens was the master of the English language, it seems particularly stupid of me to use it now. It’s like trying to serenade the world’s greatest singer. But here goes my poor attempt which is aided greatly by a quotation by a Nobel prize winning author.
I never met and now will never meet him. Notices of Christopher Hitchens’ death buzzed me awake, blinked in my inbox and were water drops in the endless Twitter flood. To be woken by news of the death of someone I revere is, to put it mildly, an unfortunate way to start a day. I can offer no insight, no perspective and nothing that will alter or add to a man larger than any life I know. With a mind that makes libraries cringe, Hitchens – journalist, author, critic, orator extraordinaire – had a powerful effect on my life. But I won’t say how, since it is not interesting to anyone except me. The worst kind of writings that reflect on the recently deceased tend to indulge us with autobiography rather than biography. What we want to hear is quite literally of a haunting: of how the dead effect and effected the living. I know that for me, his death is sad, but more important was his life.
Death is actually a boring focus. In this case, however, it is like a spot on a lovely mountain that is, itself, rather meaningless, but serves as a good point to relish in the wonderful vista surrounding. Hitchens has made the world not merely a more interesting place, but a better one, too.
But there are plenty of beautiful dedications out there: from the wonderful Ian McEwan piece in the New York Times, to the Christopher Buckley piece in the New Yorker. I urge you to read them, but read them with the critical eye that Hitchens would’ve appreciated. There are enough gloating praises to make even a Kardashian blush. Considering everything he did, it’s doubtful that he would approve of unfettered praise and monotone appreciation. Arguments and criticisms are welcome of him, as always, and should be read as we would anything else. He was, as he said, merely a mammal with a digestive system.
I’m going to end this post now in the hands of Hitchens’ fellow countryman and someone I consider Hitchens’ equal in terms of writing brilliance, Bertrand Russell. This is a piece that might as well be speaking of Hitchens directly. Russell wrote:
An individual human existence should be like a river – small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past boulders and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wide, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being. The man who, in old age, can see his life in this way, will not suffer from the fear of death, since the things he cares for will continue. And if, with the decay of vitality, weariness increases, the thought of rest will be not unwelcome. I should wish to die while still at work, knowing that others will carry on what I can no longer do, and content in the thought that what was possible has been done.
Goodbye, Mr Hitchens. You used your incredibly beautiful mind in the best way possible: You shared it with the rest of us and that, if anything, is one of the greatest gifts I have ever received.