Friday, December 16, 2011


I had a dream many years ago when I was living in London that Russian nuclear weapons were raining down on the British capital. It was spurred no doubt by some vague international tensions, but I recalled in my dream thinking, "Really? Today? Why today? What have you toads in DC and Parliament done now?"

Anyway, in the dream there really wasn't much time to do anything other than melt from the sun-like heat. For whatever reason, the London neighborhood I was living in was ground zero, so it, the dying, was over too quickly to really be bothered by it.

What was striking, and it's never left me, after all these years, was what came next in my dream.


No pain, no sorrow, no light, no motion, no regret, no wonderment, no gravity, no breeze, no drama, no loneliness...nothing.

It was dark, I felt nothing at all (I didn't have any fingers or skin or a body), everything was...well, alright.

I suspect something might have happened in that dark, weightless space eventually, had I dreamed longer, but perhaps not.

That dream was an exquisite gift. Ever since I have had so much more peace about the concept of death. I certainly hope it's a long way off, but I don't dread it like I did growing up. Whether that's what truly happens when you die or not, believing it is (which I now do), has given me a great deal of comfort, especially as people I love have passed away. I truly believe that now they are simply alright.

But it's also made death so much less scary for me that I suspect I may have a false sense of bravado about it. I'll probably only know as I'm taking my last breath.

I'm thinking about this today in response to the news that Christopher Hitchens has died. Infamous for both his atheism (his best-selling book, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” made him both a hero and villain to various contingents) and for his abandoning of the Left and his unbridled support of the invasion of Iraq.

Despite what I consider a misguided steadfastness about the war, I so deeply admire how Hitchens faced death. Even knowing he had terminal cancer, he never flinched on the God question. From The New York Times obituary:
In recent days Mr. Hitchens had stopped treatment and entered hospice care at the Houston hospital. He learned he had cancer while on a publicity tour in 2010 for his memoir, “Hitch-22,” and began writing and, on television, speaking about his illness frequently.

“In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist,” Mr. Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair, for which he was a contributing editor.

He took pains to emphasize that he had not revised his position on atheism, articulated in his best-selling 2007 book, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” although he did express amused appreciation at the hope, among some concerned Christians, that he might undergo a late-life conversion.

He also professed to have no regrets for a lifetime of heavy smoking and drinking. “Writing is what’s important to me, and anything that helps me do that — or enhances and prolongs and deepens and sometimes intensifies argument and conversation — is worth it to me,” he told Charlie Rose in a television interview in 2010, adding that it was “impossible for me to imagine having my life without going to those parties, without having those late nights, without that second bottle.”

I'm not saying I think he was right about there being no God. I still am trying to figure that out. But I've witnessed those who professed to not care about religion turn and scramble to it upon learning their days were numbered, and it's always broken my heart. It makes me hate religions for promising something they most probably can't deliver and taking advantage of those who are most vulnerable.

I know others would praise them for providing comfort when there's really nothing left for us surviving mortals to say, but I'd rather see my loved ones stay true to their selves to the bitter end. (Selfish bastard that I am.)

But honestly I see not changing as an issue of bravery, or, actually, as an issue of cowardice. Much the same as I view those who supported the invasion of Iraq in response to the 9/11 attacks (which Hitchens did) as an issue of cowardice. I need hardly remind this audience that Iraq was not involved in 9/11, posed no imminent threat to the US, and even if something truly needed to be done about the threat of "Islamofascism," it was cowardly and inhumane to sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis and American soldiers who died in that war toward that goal. Damned cowardly.

And so I find myself still angry at Hitchens for what I see as an inexcusable support of the invasion even as I can't help but admire him for how bravely he faced his own death.

Perhaps he too once had a dream like my London one.

Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011.

May he rest peacefully.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree completely with your comments about Hitchens. He was an interesting voice and will be missed. But he was wrong about Iraq, if anything it did just the opposite and destabilized the region even more. Iran gained the most in our debacle. Our foray into Iran with the Shah backfired into present day Iran and our foray into Iraq will not yield fruit either as it didn't come from within. A country isn't a tree and you can't just graft democracy onto it.

----ondine nyc

12/16/2011 10:27:00 AM  
Anonymous Saskia said...

For me, I believe in make-believe; It has real power.

RIP Christopher Hitchens

12/16/2011 10:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Edward did you have a side of Peyote Buttons with your breakfast this morning? :P

Hitchens was a bit of a Troll , he had product to sell. Everybody talks tuff however It is impossible to be a atheists on your death bed or in a fox hole.

12/16/2011 10:55:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I wasn't hallucinating when I wrote this, Anon...although the London dream may have been controlled-substance-induced...I can't recall.

I'll cling to the claim that Hitch remained atheist until the end. If, as you suggest, the death bed had shaken his resolve, I really doubt he would have been all that concerned with the product he was selling.

12/16/2011 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Mark Barry said...

We have so few if any exciting debaters any longer, merely blowhards and douche bags. Such a great mind and so entertaining. I will never understand his Iraq stance.

12/16/2011 11:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Hitchens on quite a few things. I also believe the Arithmetic favors something after death.

12/16/2011 11:32:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

This gorgeous, ultimately heart-breaking tribute would seem to contradict the notion that there are no atheists on their deathbed.

12/17/2011 07:26:00 AM  
Anonymous Gam said...

I once too had a dream of a nuclear war, years ago, and I sat on the front stoop and gazed up at the night sky and saw my wonder rise as the missile trails wrote glyphs in the sky side by side ....

I actually haven't yet read Hitchens, (part of why I like reading this blog and all the comments)... but recently I read somewhere that faith wasn't a blind belief in other, but a way of discovering the world. Which brings me to a recent posting over at on our attitudes toward art.

Where the last line sums up so much: (*** spoiler alert if I may ***) to quote

" We only see the beauty because we are looking for it."

Which makes me think of faith, and what Hitchens and others may be missing out on.

12/17/2011 08:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Black Space in your Dream Edward is Kasimir Malevich Black Square. It's a staging area before you Break on Through to the Other Side.

12/17/2011 10:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have always thought how nice it would be to just not exist again...

12/18/2011 11:25:00 AM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Thank you, Edward, for the shared dream and for the frank tribute to Hitchens. Although I also disagreed with many of the man's (seemingly contrarian) stances, I find myself mourning his passing in a way I didn't expect to. The world -- and the very fact of being -- is a fascinating, staggering thing; with the spark of HItchens' keen mind working in it, though, it was just a little brighter.

I hope you're well this holiday season.

12/18/2011 01:36:00 PM  
Blogger Danielle said...

In just the past year or so I've been struck with the insight that what many people call heaven is really sweet oblivion. But like zero, the concept of nothingness can be a hard one to grasp. You almost have to think around it to understand.

12/21/2011 04:20:00 PM  

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