Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hitchens on Illness and Mortality

Until now, I had always assumed without realizing it that David Hume and Daniel Dennett had set for all time the untouchable heroic examples of how rationalists courageously and matter-of-factly face mortality. Of course in Dennett's case, he persevered - temporarily. I say that not to be morbid but to recognize that a temporary reprieve is all any of us have.

To these two enduring accounts, we can now add the words of Christopher Hitchens. I have a fondness for his personality and his writing, so it's not surprising that I was so moved by his Vanity Fair piece. Hitchens was once characterized as the most opinionated living human, and the tone of this article is possibly so striking partly because the normal piss and vinegar of his prose is largely overwritten by something far more profound. In fact only a handful of things written by family members or close friends have affected me more. Hitchens, you still got it.

It feels silly to shout into this corner of the blogosphere "Good luck! Be brave!" to a person who I've never met, and who will almost certainly not see these words. It also seems condescending to feel qualified to offer such advice to a person who's just at the start of an experience, regardless of its resolution, that you and I can't begin to imagine, unless of course we or someone directly in our lives has been through this.

There's nothing else to say. Read the piece. Even in this moment, Hitchens refuses to squeeze out false meaning where there is none, even for a punch-line or a clever transition to the next paragraph:

...irony is my business and I just can't see any ironies here...To the dumb question "Why me?" the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?

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