I am often asked by young people—and come to think of it, not so young people—who want to become writers what they should do to achieve their dream. I always say, “Write. A writer writes.”
Christopher Hitchens was a WRITER! And he wrote—his upcoming last book, Mortality—even as he faced death. I haven’t seen it yet, but a review published in Slate brought up a point I think is worth us pondering. From, “Death Explained,” by Katie Roiphe:
What is powerful about this book is that Hitchens is doing a close reading of death; he is examining its language, critiquing its clichés. One of the ones he takes on most bitingly and effectively is the idea that “whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” He elaborately describes his disillusion with the axiom, usually attributed to Nietzsche, with relish: “In the brute physical world, and the one encompassed by medicine, there are all too many things that could kill you, don’t kill you, and then leave you considerably weaker.” He describes instead a world in which “each debilitation builds on its predecessor and becomes one cumulative misery with only one possible outcome.” What he undertakes here is a Sontagian task, but he does it with a journalist’s plainness, a disarming candor and immediacy.
But Nietzsche, of whom I am no fan, was not talking about physical vitality. Rather, it was strength of character.
My dad died of colon cancer, and yet his time of dying made him stronger and a better man than he was before he fell ill. I think that with regard to whatever comes next, that matters. But even if Hitchens was right, if nothing comes next except dispersal of our body’s molecules, it still matters. I am going to ponder this some and perhaps write more on it after I have thought it through.