Rest In Peace, Christopher Hitchens
Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.The above quote is from the final chapter of the first Hitchens book I ever read, Letters to a Young Contrarian. I have kept it through the years (I received the book as a gift in, I believe, 1998) and peruse it regularly still, if only to add a new word to my vocabulary. It was the book that prodded me to start my personal dictionary in a computer file; the friend who gave it to me said that he walked into the book store and jokingly asked, "Where are your fancy-talkin' books?"
Since then I have read several of Hitchens' books and watched most of the debates and lectures available online. His ability to confront the things that he found wanting, unnecessary, or evil was inspiring and his lack of conformity to the conventions of showing "due respect" to those "deserving" (to those in black and white collars, for example) was at first shocking, then obvious. He will be, for me, one who changed my outlook, and for that I am grateful.
The Missionary Position, one of his most contentious books, was enlightening to me in that he took a universally loved person and exposed the wizard behind the curtain. I recall him "debating" with Bill Donohue on some show about the book and Donohue wailing about the physical dimensions of it while never addressing the actual charges...because he could not. He knew the truth.
I remember reading an article about Hitch traveling somewhere and seeing a Nazi sign on the street. In spite of obvious danger to his person, he took a black marker to it because, he explained, Nazi signs, "exist only to be defaced."
Watching Hitchens and Stephen Fry debate John Oneiyakan, a Catholic bishop, and a British conservative MP named Anne Widdicomb was eye-opening, riveting, and inspiring. Seeing a person of Hitchens' (and Fry's, for that matter) strength stand up to what is obviously nonsense and obfuscation makes one want to do the same whenever the opportunity arises.
Hitchens, sadly, is gone now. Tonight, there shall be glasses raised in his honour, as there should be from now on when the thirteenth of April rolls around. Because of him and his voluminous writing and speaking, there are many thousands of us who will not stand idly by, who will face oppression, and who have a long list of behavior and conduct, as both Churchill and Hitchens said, "up with which we will not put."