Remembering Christopher Hitchens
Friday, December 16, 2011 - 02:39 PM
Christopher Hitchens once wrote that he always tried to live up to a maxim imparted languidly to him by his erstwhile friend Gore Vidal: “One should never miss a chance either to have sex or to appear on television.” Certainly, Hitchens rarely passed up TV – programs like “Firing Line” were great arenas for displaying his gladiatorial skills. He was deliciously merciless, an Olympian orator whose cuts and slices left every forum stained with the blood of the fallen.
I described Vidal as an erstwhile friend because they later fell out. Hitchens cut no slack for those who ran afoul of his convictions, and that included even his nearest and dearest. He regularly stung and betrayed them as his politics and preoccupations changed. So why the flood of obituaries, the palpable sense of loss, the genuine mourning in the chattering class, to which I concede I belong?
I met Christopher some 30 years ago. I was young and struggling, he was a little less young and he never seemed to struggle. He made hustling seem effortless. He was dashing, brilliant, exotic, infuriating, a fervent advocate of the poor and disenfranchised who never missed a party and never passed up a drink. He was one of those people who transported those with him to an era where things mattered and you could make a difference and have a fabulous time doing it, if you didn’t care who you pissed off. Eventually, he would piss off nearly everybody, but not for long.
He offered a blueprint (beyond our ability to follow) of how to live fully, playfully, indulgently, fearlessly, as if death were always around the corner. Crushing Bill Clinton, pulverizing Mother Theresa, celebrating war, shredding religion, even when he was inconsistent, illogical or mendacious, his audacity was awe-inspiring.
Damn, Hitchens was fun.
He was always generous to me (he once got me a lucrative assignment when I really needed the money) but he was famously generous to younger people. And recently, as he chronicled his 18-months in treatment, he was generous to us older people, too. Because in his graceful, gimlet-eyed account of his own demise, his searing depictions of pain and loss of his voice (a particular anguish) and finally, his analysis of when to stop fighting, he gave us a blueprint (also beyond our ability to follow) of how to die.