Christopher Hitchens’ death is hitting me harder than I expected. It’s not like we didn’t know this was coming. I met him just a few days before he was diagnosed with cancer last year. He was doing a book tour for Hitch-22, which was coincidentally a memoir. I was last in line to get my book signed, which I had done on purpose so that I could get a chance to talk to him and not be rushed. (This doesn’t always work to one’s advantage, but it did for me that day). He was polite and amiable and I really enjoyed meeting him and hearing him speak.

I started reading Hitch-22 and really liked it. There were some surprising, even shocking, things that I learned about him and I couldn’t put the book down. But then the news came out that he only had a short time left and I had to stop reading it. A lot of it was very personal and dealt with how he would handle dying and how he wanted his death handled. I started to get emotional. I told myself I would finish the book after his death, so I will give it some time and then complete my reading. It’s weird. I sort of felt like I knew him. Of course, I really didn’t and only talked to him once. But I remember the pleasant surprise of seeing him out in DC just a few months after he was diagnosed. I lived in Baltimore and DC was close, so I spent some time there. I saw him as I walking to and from the bathroom and was seated near him in the audience at the Neil deGrasse Tyson/Richard Dawkins talk at Howard University. I could tell a huge physical difference in that short time from when I met him just a few months earlier. You could tell he was seriously ill. It was sad to see him in that state, but also really good and inspiring to see that he was still out living life as much as he could in his condition. I really didn’t know him personally. But, in a way, I think that I knew him better than many of the people I see all the time. His books gave us a peak into his brain in a way that we often don’t get with those we do know “in real life”.

Although I wish he were still alive, I loved the way he went out. He promoted and defended science, reason, and skepticism until the very end. It’s not sad that he didn’t believe in an afterlife. Because he was able to accept the truth and embrace it, it made him appreciate the one life he had even more and he made the most of it. Considering how sick he was and the short time he had left, he still worked on a lot of things in the time from his diagnosis to his death. He is truly an inspiration. Although he is gone and there is no magical afterlife, he will still be with us, in a sense, through his powerful books, articles, interviews, etc. Those who are alive (and will be alive someday) will be inspired by his work and may go on to do inspiring things themselves because of him. I think that’s much more beautiful and poetic than believing in fairytales. And the good thing is that we will actually be able to see it happening and know that it is true.

If you have to read just one book by Christopher Hitchens, I strongly suggest God Is Not Great, whether you are a believer or not.

Goodbye, Hitch. I know I will never see you again on some mythical “other side”, but you will be with me because of how you have helped to develop the way I think.

“…a scientific death is better than a fairy-tale of the eternal life”.