I forget the first article I read of Christopher Hitchens‘. It was most likely something he wrote in support of the war in Iraq right around 2003 or so, when I was doing – even by my own standards – a bit more political reading than might be healthy. It was not long before I discovered that Hitchens was, among other things, a pretty staunch atheist, and has since been labeled as being a standard-bearer in what is known as the New Atheist movement. I read one of his books on atheism and was turned off by it on a number of fronts, none of which I care to discuss here, as every time I stray into the grounds of sex, religion or politics, I seem to earn myself at least one more letter politely requesting to unsubscribe from National Underwriter.
The reason why I am mentioning Hitchens (or “Hitch,” as his friends and fans call him) at all is because he is currently experiencing advanced esophogeal cancer and is likely to die soon. In a recent New York Times article, we can see a man who not only is showing the physical signs of a mortal battle with cancer, but a man who is also racing against the clock to produce as much of his life’s work as he possibly can before it is too late.
I found Hitchen’s late-stage life and how he has prioritized it to be fascinating. When I stayed with my father during the week or so he was in hospice last April, I was given a remarkable booklet entitled Gone From My Sight: The Dying Experience, which described the kinds of details about dying we never are told by anybody until we are at somebody’s deathbed. The booklet not only describes the process of dying itself, and how the body gives up in degrees, but it went alongside the messages given to me from the hospice itself: that as my father, and patients like him grew less and less responsive, it was because he simply needed his body less than before. With each passing moment, we was that much more ready to take a step from this world to the next, and so, they explained, he responded to us in the room less and less and less until finally he was no longer there at all. That is why people with terminal illness often lose interest in things like the daily news, even if they themselves don’t quite know why. That Hitchens is trying to bang out one more book says much about how much life he has left; that he feels such a different sense of urgency about it says even more about how little he has left. It is a moment we will all reach.