Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens 1949-2011

I got a text from a friend at work today for Christopher Hitchens to rest in peace. I immediately Googled his name on my phone to see that Hitchens had indeed passed on, succumbing to the effects of his esophageal cancer.

Christopher Hitchens was my intellectual hero, my idol, someone I wanted to emulate, and an inspiration who changed my life in a new direction. His wit, knowledge, propensity for clever argumentation, and his strong opinionated stances characterize why I think he was the most interesting intellectual of our times. He was a fervent atheist, whose arguments strengthened my disbelief and provided the rock solid foundation for it to build on.

I would Google him and search for him on YouTube almost daily, eagerly waiting for the next clip of him debating an opponent or speaking on one of the many topics he so deeply understood. His articulateness, combined with his British accent, flowed out of his mouth like poetry. I would hang onto his every word, repeatedly watching over and over again.

It was sometime around 2009 when I saw Hitchens on a YouTube video debating religion, that he caught my eye. I loved his style, his audacity, his skills as polemicist, and his ability to so easily expose the most ridiculous and contradictory aspects of religion and the faithful. I was instantly hooked. I bought his best seller God Is Not Great, and devoured it while on vacation in Asia after I graduated college. Getting into Hitchens so late in his life is a bit disappointing considering his early death. I didn't have the time to enjoy him for decades as others have. His works however, both written and oral, are immortalized and can be enjoyed forever. His legacy will live on the spirit of those he touched and for those like me who will continue his argument against the wretched effects that religion and faith produces.

Hitchens was a hard-lined drinker and smoker, a lifestyle that I have embraced more often then not in my adult years. As I glance toward the pack of cigarettes on my coffee table contemplating another smoke while writing this blog, I wonder whether I too will meet such a fate. Burning the candle at both ends, as Hitchens puts it, make one shine brighter, but makes one a candidate for an early visit by the grim reaper. I've always made attempts to do everything in modesty, for the obvious reasons. I've always been a recreational user of any substance. Cigarettes however, pose the biggest challenge to moderation. It's such a subtle and situational addiction. Even Malcolm X famously compared the relative ease at quitting heroine to quitting cigarettes.

I bought a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label, his favorite scotch whiskey of choice, as a tribute celebrate his life and death. I had planned this months ago knowing that the end for Hitchens was nearing. I was clinging on to the hope that he would be a rare exception and beat his cancer, while acknowledging that the odds were not favorable. I had dreams of him dying and how I would feel upon the news. It never is quite as you imagine it to be when it really happens. I have rarely experienced death in my short life. Perhaps I am lucky. I do gleefully rejoice in the opportunity to having had briefly met Hitchens after one of his debates here in New York. I remember making him laugh with a slight joke about having the King James version of his book. It was a great moment, in my life anyways.

While walking home from work, depressed, thinking of Hitchens' death, and staring at the sea of anonymous faces during the rush hour commute, I had this strange thought that it would be better to be dead now with Hitchens dead too. Realizing this macabre prospect, I mentally raced back to rationality, with the knowledge that life goes on, and that it is worth living for. Usually.

This drink is for you Hitch.

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