Life, death and the power of diversification

Vanity Fair’s prolific gasbag Christopher Hitchens is a hard man to like.

He’s pretentious, lugubrious and rude.

Hannibal Lecter would have eaten him, for sure.

But like a car wreck, it’s hard to look away from his recent columns about his battle with cancer. He is so specific and graphic that a reader can actually feel the cancer cells growing, choking off his voice, turning him from loudmouth to mute.

It’s both riveting and depressing.

Here’s a sample:

“So now every day I go to a waiting room, and watch the awful news from Japan on cable TV (often closed-captioned just to torture myself) and wait impatiently for a high dose of protons to be fired into my body at two-thirds the speed of light.”

He is raging against the light, and it makes for some very good copy.

Reading Hitch in the bathroom the other morning reminded me of a theory I have.

God punishes people with extreme habits. He punishes them by taking away the things they love the most.

In Hitch’s case, God took away his voice.

I’m not sure why God does this; perhaps it’s an effort to save the sinners, to instill in us meekness, so that we will indeed one day inherit the Earth.

Shakespeare had it right — moderation in everything.

Unfortunately, moderation is the most un-human of activities.

Who wants to live like that, right?

It’s only human to take life to the extreme. In Hitch’s case, smoking, drinking and carousing. The writer’s life.

What I find so astonishing, having lost a number of friends to these demons in recent years, is how shocked people are when their extreme tendencies land them in an Inferno of their own making. Suddenly, a person goes from being a lugubrious eel to being back flattened on a gurney with a surgeon cutting their throat out.

How did that happen, the two pack a day smoker asks. Where did this belly come from, the carton of beer a day drinker asks as the nurses drain the fluid from his abdomen.

I’m not just talking about the drinking and smoking crowd. Anyone who takes life to the extreme is bound to smell their hair burning.

Marathon runners lose their knees. Sex addicts lose their junk. Gluttons trade Coke for insulin.

For an extremist like Hitch, it must be torture to lose the thing he values most — the sound of his own voice.

I find it odd for a writer to be so obsessed with the loss of his speaking voice. Hitch tells us that good writers must first be good talkers. It’s the spoken conversation that counts.

I think he’s lost his way. God gave him a gift and he’s worried about the wrapping paper.

We should all appreciate what God gave us. If we don’t, we lose it.

And we should be very wary to not to be so obsessed with the wild strawberries that we miss the poison ivy.

It might not be fair, it might not be right, but it just is.

In the past couple of years, I’ve watched a number of friends slayed by their own their excesses. One old friend was a veteran broadcaster who loved nothing more than to tell a wonderful story with his comforting voice. He developed esophageal cancer from smoking. The excess silenced his dulcet tones forever. Through the use of various recreational products, some legal, some not, another friend lost his ability to eat. He confided in me, while in hospital, that all he can think about is a nice juicy steak and a baked potato — two delights he can now only savor once they have passed the blender.

When I read Hitch’s story, I was reminded that every day, we must value the life we’ve been given, and never take one single thing for granted. Also, we should resist any temptation to be singular of purpose.


I myself am headed to the gymnasty today to sit for a half hour on the rowing machine. I’d love to walk the neighborhood, smell the buds exploding on the trees, but I can no longer do that. A pedometer is useless to me. I can no longer walk any great distance, thanks to a persistent foot injury that leaves me in pain everytime I put a foot to pavement.

After reading Hitch, I’m not complaining.

Maybe being forced to provide the lesson is God’s real punishment for Hitch.


One Reply to “Life, death and the power of diversification”

  1. “God punishes people with extreme habits. He punishes them by taking away the things they love the most.”

    Not only have you not provided any evidence or justification as to where you have gotten this information, but even if we do take your assumption, this argument is completely flawed. What Hitchens loves most of all is NOT the sound of his own voice: it is being a writer. He has repeatedly said that he has a life rather than a job- that being a writer is who he is, rather than what he does.

    I think it’s disgusting that you’re trying to find a way to twist this until it become acceptable that your God gives diseases and kills people. You’re trying to make it seem as if Hitchens deserves the pain he’s in right now. Well, making someone sick deliberately or killing someone is always wrong whether you’re god or not.

    “How did that happen, the two pack a day smoker asks. Where did this belly come from, the carton of beer a day drinker asks as the nurses drain the fluid from his abdomen…”

    Hitch has never asked why he has this illness. He understands perfectly well where this illness has come from and he’s written extensively on how he wouldn’t take back the habits that got him to that state. Did you even read the article in which Hitch said, “I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me.” ?

    No matter how hard you try to justify this, deep down you know that NO ONE deserves the kind of suffering and pain that this illness must be bringing Hitchens.

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