So Long, You Magnificent Sonofabitch

Well, shit.

Woke up at 5 a.m. with a 50-mph wind roaring outside my window. Rolled over and picked up my phone to check the weather, and was immediately assaulted with Facebook posts praising Hitch.

Clicked over to a news page and saw it. Dead at 62. Damn.

Many times during my younger life, I asked the people around me “If there was a pill you could take that would make it possible for you to live forever, would you take it?”

And I’ve been amazed at the answers, which consisted of a large majority of negatives.

One of the responses is recorded in my peculiar memory. I don’t remember who it was, or where or when, but I can HEAR it in my head. It’s a female voice, speaking in a twangy southern accent, so I’m guessing it was from when I still lived in Texas. And it says:

“Eww, no. I’d get bored!”

Duh … what? Bored? You’d get BORED with life??

That paucity of imagination should itself be fatal. In a world of real justice, anybody giving that answer should probably just keel over right there, too stupid to keep his/her heart beating, too stupid to remember to breathe.

I would take the pill in a second.

I say this because … well, probably because death came very seldom in my life.

When my cowboy buddy Tom passed away in the 1980s, he was the first person really close to me who died. I had no idea how to deal with it, no mental models for what I should be doing or thinking or feeling, and it just sort of sat there in the back of my head, a vast and disturbing mystery that I had no way to process.

But when my Dad died in early November of this year, quite a lot of stuff began happening in my head. Deep stuff. Important stuff.

I discovered there are LESSONS in death. That death — real death, the kind we atheists know happens — has something to teach us about Life.

For some of us, you have to live a while, and have these sorts of things happen to you repeatedly, before you can absorb those lessons.

For me there are two main lessons.

One has to do with compassion: Love More.

Continue to grow the fellow-feeling you have for the beloved beasts, 2-legged and 4-, you have around you. Care about people and animals — expressing it in some real, active way — and do it a lot.

But the other has to do with courage: Be Less Afraid.

I’d take the pill because I think it would take me about a hundred more years before I could get to the point where I felt I had a good, strong, practical, working level of compassion …

… and about TWO hundred more years to get to the level of personal courage that my Dad, and Christopher Hitchens had.

I’m not talking about voluntarily walking into a war zone, which both Hitch and Dan Farris did. I’m talking about what seems to me the more difficult courage, the longer-term kind — the courage to unabashedly, unashamedly, be yourself.

Find your passion. Pursue your own career, your own hobbies. Pick your own lifemates.

Above all, say the things you think need to be said, do the things you feel need to be done, no matter whose ox you gore. Dance naked on Main Street, if that’s what it takes. Be YOU, and do it emphatically!

And if you discover the doing of that makes you enemies … hell, as long as you know you’re not hurting anybody, just keep right on doing it. Fuck ‘em.

Hitch, thanks for the lesson in courage. As I said to my Dad in his last days, the world was a better place for having had you in it.

I hope to live long enough that I can become some small measure of what you were.


Saw this on Facebook, had to add it:

Beta Culture: Being Grownups on Planet Earth
Assholes and the Umbrella of Safety
Zoning Out on Liberal vs. Conservative Issues
  • Glendon Mellow

    Thanks, that was a good read.

  • The Lorax

    I’d take the pill. Death is a downright inconvenience. First you’re alive, then right when you start getting good at it, you’re cut out? Humbug. Allow me to persist, and accomplish more, and gain more from this universe than a mere 80 years, or less, would allow.

    I’ll never get bored. Never.

  • Lewis Thomason

    I weep

  • Brett McCoy

    I was pretty shocked by the news, too, but knew it was coming soon. I had been thinking last night about the Christian vultures who had been circling, smugly expecting a deathbed conversion that I knew was not going to be forthcoming. I’ll be drinking some whisky for his legacy tonight. May we all die as unapologetic, non-believing sonofabitches too!

  • ericlegault

    I’ve been all over every news report and every opinion post on his death that I can find this morning. Yours made me misty eyed. Good job man.

  • Brett McCoy

    Yours made me misty eyed. Good job man.

    I know, what’s up with that, these cranky old atheists stir these deep and passionate emotions far more than any religioso has ever done.

  • Granny Weatherwax

    I don’t have much to add to your tribute, except that I very much admired Christopher Hitchens’ courageous struggle against cancer. To address the other part of your post…I don’t think I’d take that pill. You and I are at opposite ends of a spectrum: in my lifetime, I’ve been to over two dozen funerals and could have gone to nearly a dozen more if I hadn’t been in school or otherwise couldn’t attend. I’ve watched my grandparents, parents and all their siblings die, sometimes in protracted and painful ways. Little as I relish the thought of dying myself, and afraid as I am of the kind of suffering Hitchens went through, I do NOT want to be the one watching everyone else I love die while I’m left alone to mourn. That’s another kind of pain, and though it gets better, it leaves scars too.

  • Bob Makin

    That closing picture and caption are daunting. We must, of course, “take it from here”, but to consider filling a gap the size of the one that Hitchens left gives one pause.

  • rapiddominance

    “… and about TWO hundred more years to get to the level of personal courage that my Dad, and Christopher Hitchens had.”

    Is this Dad that you speak of the same “father” that watched your kitten fry on an electric chord? Forgive me if the question seems insensitive. Its just that when you talk, I listen.

    Its possible that you intended to say “stepfather” when you told that story in part 1 of 4.

    • Hank Fox

      Sorry about the confusion. I had a father, a stepfather, and a Dad.

      My father was named Goree, and he was the one involved with the kitten.

      My stepfather Rudy — whom I occasionally refer to as my Wicked Stepfather — came along when I was 13. My real parents divorced and my mother married Rudy. I lived with them until I was about 18.

      I met my Dad, Dan Farris, in 1975.

      I wrote the 3-parter, “Charley & Me” about our relationship, ending with a description of a bad patch we went through in later years, but leaving out years and years of all the good ones.

      • rapiddominance

        Thank you for the reply.

        Also, thank you for your willingness to open up your life to others on a weekly basis. Though I don’t share some of your more important viewpoints, I do admire your personal courage and I recognize your efforts as a means of bridging gaps between yourself and others. Furthermore, you have valuable insights to impart that go beyond good intentions.

        Well, I guess I’m going to read part 4 of being wrong. Thank you, and take care.

  • Marie the Bookwyrm

    rapiddominance @9–No, Hank’s ‘Dad’ was Dan Farris, who was essentially a surrogate father to him. Dan just died in November and Hank was able to go to California and be with him at the end.

  • c2t2

    For one of the first times ever, I disagree (about the immortality pill)

    Who wouldn’t want to live healthy and active for 100 years? 200? 1,000? 10,000? Okay, fine. But sometime after that…

    A friend and I were discussing this the other day. Anybody who wants to live “forever” shows an immense failure of imagination or grasp of cosmology/geology.

    Who wants to live after the Earth’s core cools so much that the Earth’s magnetic field vanishes and the Sun strips away the atmosphere? How about when the Sun expands and swallows the Earth? I suppose you could escape the planet, but eventually you’ll reach the heat-death of the universe and be floating in an empty black void for all eternity.

    Thanks, but I’ll take the scant decades I’m alotted here and now. Eternal youth would be awesome, but I’d at least need the option of dying.

  • c2t2
  • BioUnit

    Because of this man, there are now millions of pieces of “Christopher Hitchens” on this planet, hopefully ready to move forward in his spirit to defend reason and rationality against all the immoral, wicked, inhumanly depraved aspects of religion.

    Rest in oblivion Hitch.

  • Andrew

    Now, we are all challenged to step up.
    He raised the bar.
    Hitchen`s is gone. We are still here.
    The question is; Is lunacy to go unchallenged.
    I for one no longer feel alone.
    That is what that man did.
    I salute him.


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