I don’t know how I missed it this morning, but it was five years ago today that Christopher Hitchens (born only a few months before me) died of throat cancer. After he died, the readers and I offered several tributes, including a musical number. There were seven posts, and some lovely and moving sentiments; see them here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. This was my own inadequate tribute:
I met Hitch only once—at the Ciudad de Las Ideas meeting in Puebla, Mexico in 2011. He was smoking a cigarette outside the entrance to the auditorium, and I was surprised, for I thought he announced in Vanity Fair that he’d given up the ciggies. He hadn’t. They and the booze would, of course, kill him.
I was on the bus waiting to go back to the Mexico City airport, but got off it to go chat with Hitch for a minute. I introduced myself, and we talked about this and that, including our mutual dislike of Robert Wright’s goddycoddling (Wright was at the meeting). I then snapped Hitch’s photo. He was wearing a Kurdish flag and a poppy in his lapel. I never saw him again.
I learned of the anniversary this morning from a general email sent to Sam Harris’s subscribers. Here’s what Sam put up today, a short piece called “Missing Hitch.”
It has been five years, my friend.
Five short years since you taught us how to die with wisdom and wit. And five long ones, wherein the world taught us how deeply we would miss you.
Syria. Safe spaces. President Trump.
What would you have made of these horrors?
More times than I can count, strangers have come forward to say, “I miss Hitch.” Their words are always uttered in protest over some new crime against reason or good taste. They are spoken after a bully passes by, smirking and unchallenged, whether on the Left or the Right. They have become a mantra of sorts, intoned without any hope of effect, in the face of dangerous banalities or lies. Often, I hear in them a note of personal reproach. Sometimes it’s intended.
You are not doing your part.
You don’t speak or write clearly enough.
You are wrong and do not know it—and it matters.
There has been so much to say, and no one to say it in your place.
I, too, miss Hitch.
I also think often of “What would Hitch have to say about this?” when there’s some political or social event. What would he make of Social Justice Warriors? Trump? Who knows? All we know is that there’s a huge void in the ether where his essays would have been.
There was no other humanist or atheist who so excelled in all the skills of oratory, writing, and thinking—and the man was ferociously eloquent and literate. There’s nothing else to say except I wish he were here.