“It’s strange to mourn the passing of a person you’ve never met. It feels hollow, just a little unjustifiable, and as though you’re somewhat unequipped for the undertaking. Usually we are left with a myriad of moments to recollect and reconcile, to render into something approaching the complexity of life. Here we are left holding scraps of paper, dog-eared and lovingly wrecked, that we must read again for clues, or even simply the pleasure of a previously overlooked aphorism.
For those of us who only read (and watched and heard) Christopher Hitchens, who were never lucky enough to play spectator to the late night drinking and later night writing, who had to wait until the morning to see in print the fierce disputation and bone-dry wit that marked his life, the hole left by his death is not a dramatic wrench to the heart, but one that will appear more slowly, deepening and widening as his absence is felt more and more with every passing event.”1
So it is that I am left ‘holding scraps of paper, dog-eared and lovingly wrecked,’ feeling a chasm slowly deepening and widening – all the while feeling stupid, self-conscious, and unjustified for feeling anything at all. But I feel a great aversion toward writing something ‘in my own words’ (as they say) when there is so much already written by people more capable than me. Like when Steve Jobs died, I read post after Facebook post along the lines of “Steve Jobs, visionary.” Reading that over and over again, I couldn’t help but think, “Well, no shit. Do you have anything to positively contribute to the conversation? No? Then silence.”2
This aversion now revealed to the general public, I share something lengthier with you from Hitchens himself. In the hope of shedding some light on why I admired him and why I, justified or not, so poignantly feel his loss, here are his closing remarks in a debate against The Uninspiring William Dembski:
“But when Socrates was sentenced to death for his philosophical investigations and for blasphemy, for challenging the gods of the city – and he accepted his death – he did say, “Well, if we are lucky perhaps I’ll be able to hold conversation with other great thinkers and philosophers, and doubters, too.” In other words, that the discussion about what is good, what is beautiful, what is noble, what is pure, and what is true could always go on. Why is that important? Why would I like to do that? Because that’s the only conversation worth having. And whether it goes on or not after I die, I don’t know.
But I do know that it’s the conversation that I want to have while I’m still alive. Which means that, to me, the offer of certainty, the offer of complete security, the offer of an impermeable faith that can’t give way is an offer of something not worth having.
I want to live my life taking the risk all the time that I don’t know anything like enough yet, that I haven’t understood enough, that I can’t know enough, that I’m always hungrily operating on the margins of a potentially great harvest of future knowledge and wisdom – I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And I’d urge you to look at those of you who tell you, those people who tell you, at your age, that you are dead ’til you believe as they do – what a terrible thing to be telling to children – and that you can only live by accepting an absolute authority. Don’t think of that as a gift. Think of it as a poisoned chalice. Push it aside, however tempting it is. Take the risk of thinking for yourself. Much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.” – Christopher Hitchens
The third and final quotation for today is from the closing paragraph of an obituary written for Hitchens, published in The Independent, written by one of my favorite authors.
“Farewell, great voice. Great voice of reason, of humanity, of humor. Great voice against cant, against hypocrisy, against obscurantism and pretension, against all tyrants including God.” – RD———————–
Happy Holidays. I absolutely promise to return to Regularly Scheduled Programming this coming Wednesday. Lots of news, and a tournament! Sorry as ever, my lovely audience, for missing the previous deadline. I swear, it’s an honest mistake (each and every time).
2. On a related note, this line of reasoning is precisely why I will never EVER refer to my Jiu-Jitsu training as a journey, why I have never and will never use the word ‘journey’ on this blog. It’s such a cliché that I find it painful to read on the page; and I doubt I’m the only one.