Saint Louis Today:
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.
"At last we meet," he said, as though this were the one thing missing from his otherwise rich life.
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.
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.
It is quite interesting to me that Parker found herself finding common ground with this intellectual heavyweight over the GOP's most famous lightweight.
It is, after all, an experience I know all too well.
McCain's ridiculous choice for VP once brought many great minds together in an attempt to understand, rationalize, and explain to others the unexpected phenomena known as Sarah Louise Palin. And of course inspired many of us to stop her meteoric rise before it got too out of hand, by revealing the truth behind her carefully crafted mythology.
I have met some remarkable people due to her emergence, and of course watched numerous friendships dashed to the rocks along with the plummeting to the earth of her once skyrocketing popularity.
In the end the question is, was it worth it? And of course the answer is, yes, yes it was.