Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011

December 16, 2011

"Humanity's first sin was faith, its first virtue doubt." The author of that quote is unknown, though today I'd like to think it was Hitchens.

He was an intellectual omnivore and a polemicist of the first order. In debate, he would utterly annihilate all comers, especially if the topics were at all concerned with religion or willful ignorance. There were few things I took more pleasure in watching.

His love affair with the English language was laid bare for all of us to enjoy, and his gifted way of cajoling it into making a razor-sharp point for him is something I'll forever endeavor to emulate, knowing full well that I'll forever fall short.

Wit, to me, is one of the most enviable creative traits, and Hitchens' was unmatched. It was biting, unforgiving and often irrebuttable. As Ian McEwan once said of his friend's aptitude for corralling knowledge and experience at will, "It all seems instantly, neurologically available: everything he's ever read, everyone he's ever met, every story he's ever heard." Indeed, it was a sight to behold.

Hitchens and I of course didn't agree on everything (probably most notably his unwavering defense of the Iraq war), but his opinions and insights always demanded attention besides. You knew that in his mind he was juggling pieces to a puzzle that most of us didn't even know existed. It always was a fun, if rigged game.

In his final, wonderful book (that wasn't a collection of essays), Hitch-22: A Memoir, he quotes Horace Mann: "Until you have done something for humanity, you should be ashamed to die."

Hitchens was not ashamed to die.

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