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.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.
“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 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.