I want to apologize now for my indulgence here, because this is going to be a very personal and self-centered essay. There are going to be a lot of people in the coming days who will write beautiful summaries and explorations of Hitchens's character and life, far better than I could. Earlier this year, when I was going through a pretty rough emotional patch, one of the phrases that kept floating into my mind was, "Christopher Hitchens has cancer." It seemed resonant, in that sort of way irrelevant things can tend to. It seemed to capture the character and flavor of my time.
And for a long time, I believed he was going to die. Like, soon. But then, he kept not dying, and I started to wonder whether he wasn't going to pull through, somehow.
I cared about that, not because he was a personally important person to me, he wasn't a friend, or a loved one. He was a hero, and still is. But even in that sense, he's not one of the most influential people in my life -- he wouldn't make the top five, though he'd certainly make the top fifty.
That feels weird to say, so soon, but when talking about a man who made a point of being as honest as he possibly could, with himself and with others, even in the face of social scorn, I think it would be wrong to lie, even a little bit, in this post. Though, for the sake of a concise and almost-coherent post, I must necessarily leave some things out.
I found out when I was leaving a movie -- I went to the new Sherlock Holmes midnight showing with some friends. When I came out, I checked my cell phone. There was a text, it was about an hour old, and it said, "Hitchens died."
I decided that I was going to have a drink in his honor, tonight. Whiskey, although I haven't got any Johnnie Walker right now.
There's something sort of dull and aching about the way I feel at the moment, like the emotions, the grief and loss, are waiting in the wings, ready to pour out. But I feel like they aren't going to. Not until it starts to feel real. When I read PZ Myers and Greta Christina and Hemant Mehta talk about it, when I begin to hear the inevitable discussion in the atheist community, when people who are much better at putting words together than me start to bring into sharp clarity why Christopher Hitchens really mattered, I think it'll hit pretty hard.
And of course, I know that Hitchens had a voice and a perspective and a way of being that'll just never be replaced in the cultural dialogue. I know there's no one who could step up to the plate to be the new Hitchens. But I think that's okay -- one of the things I took from his work is that it's vital to have your own voice, your own views, and to be your own person. I don't think Hitchens was right about everything, but I think he was right that it's vital to stand up for what you believe, not for what the nearest party to your views believes.
I can't get my flask to open -- the cap is stuck. I've been trying periodically throughout writing this post. So I guess I'm not drinking tonight. But this seems to be pretty good, too, as a narrative finishing point. We live in a universe of which we're not the center. Humans, even humans that mean a lot to a lot of people, sometimes die of complications related to cancer in the middle of the night on a Thursday. Sometimes, you get the news in a text message from a friend who you worry is coping a lot worse than you are. And sometimes, even when it feels like the perfect gesture of mourning is a glass of whiskey in honor of the dead, the damn cap is stuck.
I'll miss you, Hitchens. But I'm glad for the body of work you left behind, much of which I've still not read -- I've got time with you, yet.