Friday, December 16, 2011
The Measure of a Man
Anyone who's read this site for any length of time knows how I feel about Christopher Hitchens -- and just about everyone understood once his cancer diagnosis was made public that it was only a matter of time before we had to say goodbye to him. Today, unfortunately, is that day.
There's an almost comical irony to the fact that I can't even begin to find the words to properly explain the indelible mark that Hitchens's brilliance, fearlessness, and all-around larger-than-life presence has left on the world around him over the last six decades -- the irony being that those very words would likely come easily to him, and did, right up to the end. He lived his life with a kind of conviction few of us could muster, turning an intellect so virgorous that one would normally imagine it as a cold and sterile instrument into a weapon of pure human passion. He regularly challenged the expectations and sensibilities of even his fiercest defenders, forcing them, as he did everyone else, to accept that the mark of a truly exceptional mind was the willingness to not simply break with conventional wisdom but to sometimes angrily turn against the opinions of your idols. Put simply: Hitchens never expected you to agree with him all the time, even if you were someone who admired the way his brain worked and reveled in his ability to bring that genius to the page; on the contrary, he'd probably think quite a bit less of you if you did.
Sometimes it felt like he argued simply for the sake of arguing, but he was never some grotesque and gratuitous provocateur, pushing buttons in the hope of drawing attention that would be its own reward; his militant intelligence, scalpel wit and irrepressible tongue never felt self-serving. What Hitch was doing -- always doing -- was flexing a muscle so fucking powerful that, like the many other unabashedly human impulses he exhibited, not even he himself could completely control it.
In the end, Christopher Hitchens was something few of us can claim to be -- a completely honest man. Honest in his beliefs. His faults. His vices. Intellectually honest. And what he may be remembered best for: honest in his willingness to voraciously live the one and only life he knew he had.
Here's to you, Hitch.
Vanity Fair: In Memoriam: Christopher Hitchens/12.15.11