I only managed to quit smoking by lying to myself. Something haunted me about the notion of ‘the last cigarette’. I could put cigarettes off indefinitely, but the idea that one would be my last mortified me. Finality is off putting in almost all cases. To make a point that is so obvious it almost isn’t worth saying at all this is because it reminds us of death, and the knowledge that life has a termination point. If a believer tries to disagree with this point, remind them that they have very likely cried at a funeral. Confronting finality in any respect takes a massive amount of courage, particularly for those still young and especially when the finality they are dealing with is the termination of their own life.
Christopher Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and despite tackling it with surprising strength and optimism recognized that this fight could be his last. He decided to document the experience of learning and living with cancer in this brief volume. He did this, of course, without an kind of foreknowledge of what the end result would look like, and we may have gotten a very different book had the dice fallen a different way. For us readers, the end result is a very personal look not only at the pain of this disease, but also at what having such an ironic disease means to a public figure famed for being a hardened non-believer and firebrand.
There is little defense for the fact that the book feels incomplete. A record of a disease cannot be completed if the disease won. But this does not take away some of the insight the book has. Particularly in how to face death with dignity. The book is not overtly about that, but we get glimpses of it from the articles collected within.
Somewhere in there there is also something we can learn about living life. Again, it seems like this book (or rather, these articles) were begun with a degree of confidence that Christopher’s fight again cancer would be won, and these writing would form the basis for a book about that fight. It would seems then that when he got the news, he thought quickly of how to morph it into silver linings. It can be considered sad that this didn’t come to pass, but another way of looking at it is understanding that sometimes you have to play the game as if you are sure you are going to win.
There will be interpretations about how to look at those facts, but that’s the kind of optimism I can do with having much more of!