On Christopher Hitchens

Bad things come in threes. First Christopher Hitchens, then today Vaclav Havel. Who will be next? Of course, Christopher Hitchens would have bristled at my superstition, but he might have respected my desire to make sense of these unrelated events that have brought such sadness to those of us who loved the work of both.

Earlier this summer, while reading one of his Vanity Fair articles, I had a weird thought that news organizations must have already written his eulogies. He even made it into a piece of fiction I am working on, when our hero “was halfway through one of Christopher Hitchens’ didactic essays when he felt eyes on him.” So he has been buzzing around my head for a while, and I like to think he was deeply appreciated while he was alive. I followed his career – such as it was, I doubt very much he would have though of his writings and journalism as a career, he seemed too casually good at what he did to make it a career. I enjoyed his work a great deal, and sometimes would pass through the Houston Medical Center conscious that he was within one city block of me, and wishing it was a different city block, so I might go listen to him read from a new book or – not an impossible possibility – bump into him at a local watering hole.

We truly lost an intellectual giant when he passed away earlier this week. Our culture is a little darker and we are all a little poorer without him, regardless of your views on religion. I seem to be taking the news of his death with more than passing sadness. I’ve devoured everything I can find about him. I’ve Amazoned his books, including his biographies of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. I do take heart that he has left an amazing corpus of work for us to remember him by, but I still wish he were alive. It would have been wonderful to see him recover.

Alas.

There are a lot of fond memories of Hitch floating around the internet, but this one from Hitchens’ friend Ian McEwan, touched me perhaps most of all.

I want to be like him, in the sense of filling myself with literature and journalism. I cannot hope to ever write or even think as well as he; but I can, at least, seek what he sought through the same bookmarked pathways.

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