So here’s my (Walker’s) own Hitchens obituary, which I admittedly took my time with. As a reminder, the views of this blog post do not necessarily represent those of Chris Stedman, the other NPS panelists, or any of the organizations with which they affiliate.
He once said, “The finest fury is the most controlled.”
And while he was certainly of the highest class of aggression, it would seem an odd thing to ever consider Christopher Hitchens “controlled”. Note that this is the man who was once literally spanked on his hind end by Margaret Thatcher at a cocktail party, after challenging her on a small detail of Zimbabwean foreign policy.
“Your ideal authors ought to pull you from the foundering of your previous existence, not smilingly guide you into a friendly and peaceable harbor.”
To me, Hitch was a messiah for my now very strong desire to go into journalism. What always colored me uneasy about the prospect of such a career was the emphasis laid by so many on reporting, and the idea that quality of writing should come as a mere afterthought. Hitch excised this notion with characteristic ferocity. He made clear that merely retelling a story does next to nothing for actually telling it—to at once inform and inspire the public, you have to employ the beauty of language, the science of narrative construction, and, above all, a bit of heart.
“The most satisfying comment a reader can pay is to tell me that he or she feels personally addressed. ”
Even further than his journalistic prowess, there was so much in the profound polemicist that warranted respect. I was always warmed by his unrivaled love for his mother Yvonne, a love which, unceasing, drove him to continue reporting from Athens during his visit to identify her body after her suicide. As he made the journey through life, he respectably rid himself of black-and-white chains, adopting his self-proclaimed “à la carte” politics, which have led his eulogists over the last week to make the obligatory note that he was not always easy to agree with (although so bloody convincing). And I shared with him a great admiration for literature and poetry—I still remember feeling electrified when he employed a quotation from my favorite T.S. Eliot piece in what I would also consider to be one of Hitch’s best essays, “Unspoken Truths”.
“There can be no progress without head-on confrontation.”
And it was, ultimately, his stridency which propelled him to success. Though it would seem a disservice to offer apologetics for him after he’s lost the opportunity to do it much more eloquently himself, I do want to say: I don’t think he ever engaged in what I would call, “bullying”. Certainly, polemics, and even name-calling in many cases. But never did he batter his antagonists without citation, never did he extrapolate unto them failures of character based solely upon perhaps misplaced political allegiances. He spent a career combating hatred and xenophobia, and demonstrating an extraordinary faithfulness to love—of his mother, of humanity, of his friends, of art. That dedication, in my eyes, painted him as anything but hateful and self-aggrandizing—he was a knight of compassion, albeit one who drew heavily upon the “knight” element when in battle.
That line is such a curiously amateur aside, and sounded so ironic, yet genuine, whenever Hitch would deliver it at the end of an interview or debate. It would always come with a humble smile, illustrating just how much he appreciated the opportunity for discourse. Hitch sparred in such a way that he, at least in my eyes, laid waste to the notion that being tender and being tenacious are mutually exclusive. Like so many of us, I never had the pleasure of sitting across a table—or a debating floor—from the great contrarian. But, also like so many, I nevertheless heard his voice.
So it has been real, Hitch. “Real” in this natural world to which you dedicated yourself, “real” in the never unexciting life you undertook, and “real” fucking eloquent the whole way through.
Thanks—or, as you might have it: cheers.
Walker Bristol is an undergraduate studying religion and linguistics at Tufts University, and the Community Organizer and Interfaith Representative for the Tufts Freethought Society. Originally from North Carolina, Walker was raised in a largely Quaker community before exploring several Christian traditions throughout high school and ultimately becoming a secular humanist at age 15. Walker serves as the chair of the Committee to Establish a Humanist Chaplaincy at Tufts, and this summer was a student intern at the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard. Along with fellow Tufts Freethought board member Lauren Rose, Walker hosts the internet radio show FreethoughtCast. In addition to being involved in secular student activism, Walker is a hobbyist musician, ballroom dancer, and far-too-avid science-fiction fan. He tweets nonsense from @GodlessWalker.