Friday, October 12, 2012

Christopher Hitchens Will Not be Silenced

No one could miss the irony. That a man who lived for debate, for the joy of the spoken word - for which he was probably more famous than for his estimable writing - should be brought down by a disease that affected his ability to speak. Oh the injustice! That's my opinion, though, not his. He was not a man to ever ask that pathetically inexcusable question, "why me?"

I felt that I got to know this man as apparently millions of others did, through his memoir Hitch-22, a book that I listened to so as to reap the full benefit of his wonderful voice. Now I'm reading his final powerful words, just over 100 pages of humor, pathos, and feistiness, called simply, Mortality.

For any readers unfamiliar with the back story, Mr. Hitchens was on a book tour for his memoir when he was struck down by what would be diagnosed as stage 4 esophageal cancer. Since he wryly observes that there is no stage 5, he surmised the outcome from the beginning but gave it his best shot anyway, planning his death with lawyers and accountants in the mornings and putting it on hold in the afternoon during chemo drips. Eighteen months was all he got.

Poignant but never sad, this book had me laughing out loud in the lunch room the other day as my co-workers looked at the title of the book thinking what on earth??? You would have to understand the black humor that accompanies those of us who have been as he calls it "in the land of malady."

Comparisons are made, horror stories are shared, people take advantage of your emotions in ways they would never dare do to a healthy person. I remember going through radiation therapy and feeling guilty because my cancer was only localized while some of my fellow patients may have been looking at a different outcome.

Christopher Hitchens was infamous for his insistence on atheism and brilliantly debated famous theologians over the existence of god, heaven, hell and all stops in between. (Does anyone remember purgatory?) "Good" Christians took bets on whether he would recant as he faced his death. Hate mail equalled support letters in number as he plugged away at treatment and continued to write. I knew he would not cave.

Death is guaranteed at birth. I suspect that most of us would like to live for as long as we can be productive and involved. A fatal illness at the young age of 63 at the height of one's intellectual prowess and output seems more of a waste than a tragedy. But when faced with the facts Mr. Hitchens had courage, dignity, and the full use of his amazing power of reason. He inspired me to hope for nothing less.

2 comments: said...

sorry Sally to use this to inform you, but I don't see any other way: you said you wanted to join my read-along on the house at Riverton, but I don't see your email in my comments. I don't see any way to contact you either on your blog.
so for now, know that my questions are up to help you read the first part of the book:
if you did send me an email, forgive me, I can't find it.
thanks. Emma

Sallyb said...

Oh hi Emma, Yes, I did receive email and I have the questions and plan to begin this weekend. Very much looking forward to interacting with you and your readers!