Goodbye, Christopher

January 3, 2012

Well, that’s it then. The finest writer whose works I have ever read has passed away. What more can I say? What can my feeble little pen hope to say about the loss I have endured, and what’s more who will care? Why should I want them to?

Christopher Hitchens would chide me that this is all so much rubbish, and put it so beautifully I wouldn’t feel the least bit slighted. A writer is born to write. It is the life I have chosen for myself, and in failing to do so for nearly an entire year I have betrayed a part of myself I should hold very dear. Enough of that then, here is my goodbye letter to Christopher Hitchens.

Dearest Christopher,

We never met, but I can hear your voice even as I write this letter. In some of my more daring moments, I fancy that I can hear the letter itself in your charming, ever delightful tones – I won’t say accent, for didn’t you say in Hitch 22 that it is the Americans who have the accent, and a lovely one at that?

I was introduced to you through another I have fancied from afar, Stephen Fry. I saw your Intelligence Squared demolition job versus a Catholic Bishop and Anne Widdecombe, and I was enthralled. Your use of words, the power of the polemic vocalized captured a part of me that I am proud to say shall never be released. You reminded me why I chose literature and English as my major when I was in school, and it was your joy and master that helped me to write as much as I did in the early days of this journal.

That you so clearly won is a pleasure for its own reasons, but not the chief pleasure. The happiness I felt was in seeing and hearing how beautifully put the defense of atheism, the Enlightenment tradition, the defense of good friends against those who would impose sanctions on their lives. Indeed, in defending Stephen against the bigoted church with your words, you were defending me as well, and I thank you from the core of what I believe I am. Thank you.

From there it was on to God is Not Great and the Missionary Position, and of course the latter’s precursor Hell’s Angel. To hear that I am the heir to the Enlightenment tradition in your own words, your own voice was remarkable, invigorating, challenging. I must explain, I listened to the first of these on Audiobook, because I had a delivery job that engaged very little of my mind and I wished to keep my thoughts active and engaged. I have since read the hard copy of the book and find both experiences fine and illuminating encounters with an outstanding wit.

My love at the time belonged to a handsome young man from Liverpool, and we shared in the discovery of your works. To have someone who shared a belief in humanity, humanism, the Enlightenment and its ideals, and an appreciation for your works at the same time? Let us say you brought us together in a way that made the ocean between us seem a mere trickle, from my end at least. We have since moved on, but I remember those days as some of the most joyous of my life of 28 years.

I heard you would be coming to Raleigh, NC, then a very short distance from where I lived. I resolved to go and buy a copy of your new release, Hitch-22, and have you sign both my copy of God is Not Great and a copy for Alexander. Alas, I heard at the very last moment that you had canceled for ‘personal reasons.’

I listened then to your autobiography in audio form, again to engage my mind and enliven the days and nights spent delivering to homes. I heard you speak of the final days of the Commander, and his struggle with esophogeal cancer. The frisson I felt when I heard that was your very own diagnoses not a week later, was shall we say a disaster for me.

I lost my mother to cancer of the breast, a very different but no less vile and degrading disease. I followed your story with heartache, I watched you fade with the grace and dignity you could manage, I heard and read everything you put out with a quiet desperation, knowing that once again the argument with death was about to conclude and deprive me of access to someone I had come to love.

And now, here it is. You are gone, and I grieve. I tried to reach you, but I know how many people tried that in your final days and I do not pretend to think you ever read my little question to you about literature and ethical dilemmas. I hope that you did, but I know there was so much more that occupied your time and mind.

I hope your final days were spent giving love and solace to your family, and seeking it from them in turn. I hope that Martin Amis was there to say goodbye. I hope for so many things. I know there is no ‘good end,’ simply the end.

I will miss you, Christopher. Thank you for the gifts of inspiration and linguistic dynamism you gave me, all unknown. Thank you for being the sort of light that could blaze from both ends and shine into the all-too Romantic heart of one more Enlightenment’s heir, and let me believe that I could use my words to do the kind of good you did at your finest.

Yours fraternally,

William Farlin Cain III


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