Wednesday, December 21, 2011

There was just one hitch


WASHINGTON—The Republicans' final debate preceding the Iowa caucuses is suddenly uncompelling. There is nothing to do but write about Christopher Hitchens, whose death has made the world immeasurably less interesting.

A regular reader of this column shot me an email Friday morning: "Your thoughts about Hitchens? Was he a great writer?"

The question makes me weep with pity for the fellow who has not known Hitchens' writing. My appetite for his prose was and remains as insatiable as Hitchens' own was for expression. Few are the writers whose work I actively seek and devour, but he was top of the list. Not surprisingly, others include the several close friends who have written tributes to him, none more beautifully than The Other Christopher (Buckley).

Like so many who have found themselves staring at keyboards the morning after, I feel the need to say something and yet also feel presumptuous. I felt similarly presumptuous a year and a half ago when I wrote Hitchens to say how sorry I was that he was sick. Characteristically, he was appreciative and responded accordingly.

To say I was a friend of Hitchens would be an exaggeration, though I did enjoy the pleasure of his company on several occasions. But one needn't have known a writer to mourn his passing or to feel profound sadness about all the silent days to come. No matter what the topic, I always wanted to know what Hitchens thought about it, and, lucky for the world, he seemed always willing to end the suspense.

Although I had read him for years—and had in fact been influenced by him on wide-ranging subjects—I didn't meet him until 2008 when we were both consigned to the leper colony reserved for any who questioned John McCain's selection of a running mate. Precisely, we met "in makeup" at NBC. This is not the bonding experience of the foxhole, but the objectifying ritual of having one's countenance applied in the presence of another's conveys a sort of detached intimacy.

If one knew only Hitchens' acerbic wit or his passionate attacks on such untouchables as Mother Teresa, not to mention God, then one might be surprised by his humility in personal encounters. Notwithstanding his deserved reputation for (often-rude) belligerence in the heat of intellectual debate, he was as polished as a silver service in the parlor. If he didn't kiss my hand upon parting, he left me with the impression that he had.

He did most certainly invite me to a dinner at the home of David Frum and Danielle Crittenden, where a few of us benighted objectors to Sarah Palin feasted on Alaskan salmon, baked Alaska and other ironic dishes indigenous to our own little Siberia. I confess to being raptly attentive to every Hitchens syllable, not least because of his remarkable lucidity well past the point where others had forgotten the first part of their own sentences.

The last time I saw him, about a week before his diagnosis of esophageal cancer, was at a book party (at the same home) where a small group of us were smoking and talking by candlelight under a tree. It was one of those magical times when you want to freeze time and preserve the moment. (Though I quit smoking 28 years ago, I still find smokers to be the most interesting people at a party and often join in solidarity.) I have no idea what we were discussing, but I do remember that Hitchens declined to share a pink, gold-filtered Nat Sherman he wanted to try, saying he'd inhale the whole thing in a single drag. He did.

Among the many things that made Hitchens unique was his precision of thought and expression. What made him rare were his courage and tenacity. He was fearless in the field and relentless in his defense of the defenseless with that mightiest of swords—his pen. Judging from his final essays, he was also fearless in the face of death. Terrified that he might lose his ability to write and therefore his being? Well, that was something else.

In his last article for Vanity Fair, Hitchens said he wanted to be fully present at death so that he might experience it actively rather than passively. How perfect that a man who was never passive about living would go un-gentle (but surely gentlemanly) into that dark night, and dare death to have the last word.

Kathleen Parker's email address is (c) 2011, Washington Post Writers Group.

About Comments

Comments with content that seeks to incite or inflame may be removed.

Comments that are in ALL CAPS may be removed.

Comments that are off-topic or that include profanity or personal attacks, libelous or other inappropriate material may be removed from the site. Entries that are unsigned or contain signatures by someone other than the actual author may be removed. We will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or any other policies governing this site. Use of this system denotes full acceptance of these conditions. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

The comments below are from the readers of and in no way represent the views of Express Publishing, Inc.

You may flag individual comments. You may also report an inappropriate or offensive comment by clicking here.

Flagging Comments: Flagging a comment tells a site administrator that a comment is inappropriate. You can find the flag option by pointing the mouse over the comment and clicking the 'Flag' link.

Flagging a comment is only counted once per person, and you won't need to do it multiple times.

Proper Flagging Guidelines: Every site has a different commenting policy - be sure to review the policy for this site before flagging comments. In general these types of comments should be flagged:

  • Spam
  • Ones violating this site's commenting policy
  • Clearly unrelated
  • Personal attacks on others
Comments should not be flagged for:
  • Disagreeing with the content
  • Being in a dispute with the commenter

Popular Comment Threads

 Local Weather 
Search archives:

Copyright © 2020 Express Publishing Inc.   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.