Thursday, December 15, 2011

By Michael

(Vanity Fair)
Christopher Hitchens died tonight. Much of the reporting I've read is filled with canned references to his "battle" and "fight" with esophageal cancer. It ain't right. I recall clearly listening to an interview he gave Anderson Cooper two months after his diagnosis last year, during his tour for his bestselling memoir, Hitch-22. In that interview he said, "Having to sit through chemo therapy is an almost zen experience in boredom, you can't do much except read, you don't feel great, and you're watching poison go into your arm. People say you should be struggling, battling cancer. You aren't battling cancer, you couldn't be living a more passive moment than that. It feels as if you are drowning in powerlessness."

Hitchens was brilliant. But what resonated with me more than the power of his intellect, was his eloquence. He expressed himself just as clearly in extemporaneous thought as he did in his writing. Peers have said that he wrote nearly as quickly as he spoke.

Though nobody doubts his intellect, to many his thoughts, when contrarian, were strident--and I don't think that is without intent. In our often over-simplified world, where labels are used to immediately peg people, to simplify what should be complex for the need of an audience to quickly digest information and reinforce prejudice, Hitchens was a contrarian. Dare to label, or otherwise characterize him simply, and you will soon be wrong. He was an athiest who believed that life begins at conception. He was a one-time socialist who supported George W. Bush.

Coincidently, last week I watched a 100-minute formal debate between Hitchens and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. (I was just talking to some other cruisers about it at our full-moon bonfire.)  The two debated the motion: Is religion is a force for good in the world? This was one of the Munk Debates filmed in Toronto November 2010, in association with the BBC and Intelligence Squared. Hitchens is funny, serious, and thought provoking. He is well into his treatment and left hairless by chemo. If you want to celebrate Hitchens or learn more about him, I encourage you to take time from your day to watch.

If you've read this far: I can report that while blog posts have been scarce lately, progress in our quest to get out of the slip has not waned. We plan to leave as soon as Saturday...and go sailing. More later.

9/11 was a turning point in Hitchen's personal and professional lives. His post-attack
position that the U.S. should unseat Saddam Hussein was controversial and
alienated some of his closest friends, notably Gore Vidal. This is a picture of
Hitchens in Iraq in 1975, a time when he likely developed an understanding an
affinity for the Kurds. (Washington Post)

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