Happy Easter, Jesus
It was with great disappointment that I learned recently that Christopher Hitchens had been forced to cancel an address he was scheduled to deliver at an atheist’s convention due to the loss of his voice. The very notion of atheists having a convention and hanging out in the merch room buying t-shirts and little Darwin bobbleheads, much less there being anything that can be said on the subject of a lack of belief in something strikes me as supremely silly, but neither do I begrudge anyone whatever validation they might find in like-minded companionship given the extremes of negativity some of them experience. Rather, its just that like so many others, I want Hitch to just beat this fucking thing already and go back to being himself and doing what he does best, namely wielding the English language like an ancient and exquisitely crafted sword that kills by dint of sheer poetry and eloquence.
Instead, the fact of it’s occurrence was a more tangible and emotionally resonant indication that he is struggling with his cancer than the loss of his hair.
Sorry, Jesus, you know this is about you, or at least you’re supposed to, and the fact remains that Mr. Hitchens remains among us whereas you do not. So I’m sure you won’t begrudge a few words spared a man whom I consider to be a genuinely inspirational figure, particularly in light of my own circumstances. And this is the first and last sermon I will ever write on your behalf, so there’s that.
Yes, kids, this is an actual sermon.
Most folks will be focused in on the gospel of John in a few hours; certainly this is seasonally appropriate, however I’ve always felt that John was mostly about your impending execution and the fact that, failing finding acceptance as the messiah, your ministry had no legacy, not that it was intended to provide a ritual by which one became a disciple. Better still, a lot of my favorite bits are in Mathew, which provides some validation to this conclusion.
Charles Muede of The Stranger once wrote words to the effect of “I formed my concept of right and wrong through Christianity and this didn’t really begin to properly develop until I saw Star Wars” and I think that’s as apt an analogy as one is likely to find, considering. In my instance, it was that it was initially impressed upon me that it was necessary to be a Christian in order to be a “good person”, so I took the proposition very, very seriously.
Problem being? You know as well as I how few would ever even be able to read what I’m saying without deliberately changing it’s meaning in order to reconcile it for themselves. Still others won’t get an attempt to call to one’s attention the attributes that I found worthwhile as opposed to hewing to LaVey’s contention that the most effective counter-strategy is to mock Christianity. At the time, however, you were faced with an untenable position; there was no hope of reforming the status quo without deliberately seeking political power, and yet establishing even an enlightened position of authoritarianism eliminated the self-established goal of your own sermon.
Principle matters, and acting on principle is paramount. There is much in your sermon that takes the listener out of their comfort zone and causes them not only to examine the nature of their own humanity, but the humanity of those they might struggle to identify or even deny. But it’s an all or nothing proposition; you either encourage people to think and hope that they will or you tell them what they should think and then they get lost the instant they encounter a situation that doesn’t have a rule. Then again, you only spent a few, short years walking on thin ice before it gave way, so the delicacy exercised and desire to avoid being too threatening isn’t difficult to understand.
But you were going to say something about my clothes, perhaps? I’m not a Lilly, nor do I drive a Louis Vuitton. And? Tobias is pretty cool, isn’t he?
Take care of where you are and it will take care of you. The purpose of treating people fairly is to be treated in kind or at least have the confidence of principle in having made the effort when it isn’t reciprocated. But the conflict within any social dynamic isn’t change versus statism, but the fact that change requires that the same lessons be learned over and over again.
Mathew credited you with a great deal of poetry that holds up so well that you can come across it and not even realize where it’s from. But he also made your own humanity equally apparent and I can tell where you would have revised your delivery if you’d had more time and less pressure. Yes, as rational agents we do have a substantial amount to contribute and more, this is the only means by which your goals might have been attainable. But the point is not a Solomon in every kitchen; its having the necessary tools to listen and form passable value judgments.
Disciple was never meant to be a gold star, arbitrarily awarded for the ability to recite a pledge. But whereas we both know I long ago realized that would have been a very bad choice, I am a product of my culture and thus this was my starting point. So were you.
So while I probably profess a less muscular form of anti-theism than Hitch, I regret that if my grandmother is right and memory is the closest analog to an afterlife then you will take far longer to die than he or I. Gratefully, at least you don’t have to be aware of any of it.
Which brings us full circle, Grandma. Closure is a myth; what I remember of you is romanticized and distorted and by far less considered or accurate than I would have hoped, yet I kept my promise and am confident that very little of it was ever ingenuine. And I do have a lot of very good memories, and survived to this point without really even needing anyone like myself to complete the process.
I can’t look forward to a state where I no longer exist nor provide the universe a means by which to examine itself, but then I am no more or less integral to that function than anyone else and it will continue. Your own star is becoming an ember, I’m afraid, however, and there’s not much to bank it with.
But then this is Easter; a time specifically designated to reflect on conversations we’d wished would never end and ultimately did. And I’ve been fixated on the idea not just that I don’t especially care to be remembered, but that I want to burn out as quickly as possible. Why? It’s a question I can’t answer and it stands out so stark and absolute in my consciousness that it may as well be written into my brain with a soldering iron.
I’d suspect that it is a display calculated to thwart fear, but this supposition casts doubt on your memory in a way that cheapens it and disgusts me. Certainly I can own it, but I don’t just want to ignore it, I want to stand over it’s prone form and crush it’s skull with a rock. I’m going to smile if it kills me, because as a matter of fact, it will.
But having faithfully discharged your final request, I find I have the opposite. Should anyone remember me, I would have them immediately push the thought away in favor of someone still among the living, where the effort might result in some tangible value. Everything I ever had, good, bad and indifferent was sufficient and when its over, I want the quickest and most complete end to it that can be managed.
So I’m sorry you missed your convention, Mr. Hitchens, and hope that this was greater cause for anxiety on my part than your own, even though I certainly would not begrudge you if this were not true. The dope and the meds and the sick make a remarkable mess of things, don’t they? And yet unlike me, you continue to want things, to try to do them, to continue as though there is time for them.
Sooner or later, though, you must put them away; I see no other way to beat the fear. You don’t hide from something that can literally find you anywhere, anytime. You accept it, you welcome it and then, at last, you can be still. And smile.
This is how a man dies.