Christopher Hitchens, wrote an article for the January 2012 issue of Vanity Fair magazine, entitled Trial of the Will. Mr. Hitchens has my deepest sympathy as he faces Stage IV Esophageal Cancer, but I wanted to share his thoughts on death and suffering because they run so counter to my own. I can agree with his arguments against the saying attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche, “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.” Hitchens takes two long pages to say that Nietzsche was having a stupid day when he wrote that nonsense.
Hitchen’s prolonged harangue about Nietzsche’s lunacy didn’t catch and hold my attention, but I was mesmerized by the touching and bitter description of his struggle against pain and suffering, fear and death in a life devoid of God by conscious choice. His defiance against God is absolute, unwavering, and unapologetic. He’s a good and faithful atheist and proud of it. Just as Mr. Hitchens has studied and rejected God (or any diety, for that matter), so I have studied and rejected atheism. Mr. Hitchens takes great joy in repudiating beliefs such as mine, but my beliefs are my choice just as his beliefs are his. Call me all the names you like, if that gives you comfort, Mr. Hitchens.
The Sting of Death
For those who don’t believe in God, Death is like a scorpion poised to strike, maybe swiftly or maybe in a prolonged session of agony; Life is temporary, and Death is forever. Here’s the point in Mr. Hitchen’s article that prompted me to write this post:
“But mercifully, too, I now can’t summon the memory of how I felt during those lacerating days and nights. And I’ve since had some intervals of relative robustness. So as a rational actor, taking the radiation together with the reaction and the recovery, I have to agree that if I had declined the first stage, thus avoiding the second and the third, I would already be dead. And this has no appeal.”
Death Appeals to Me
Death appeals to me. There, I’ve said it. Several years ago, I wrote a piece that named the day of death as “The Big Day”, better than any birthday, better than a wedding day, better even than the first time you hold your new child in your arms.
I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Hitchens and I probably agree that we should have the right to decline extreme medical treatment in the face of probable death. Based on his article, I think he wants to avoid more of the sort of suffering he’s already lived through. Still, who knows what he will decide in the future? As his struggle continues, he may try to hold Death at bay even though more suffering will result.
I, on the other hand, want to shrug off this world’s bonds because this world is full of pain and sorrow, betrayal and misunderstandings. Sure, I’d love to see my children grow up, to hold my grandchildren close, and possibly, to enjoy my great-grandchildren. I have many hopes and dreams for the future, and I’d like to see some of them fulfilled. My spouse and children may want to hold onto me at the end, but I hope I’ve prepared them to let me go. I’m not suicidal or self-destructive, but I plan to embrace Death whenever it comes and in whatever form.
For his sake, I hope that Mr. Hitchen’s death will occur before he loses his ability to communicate because speaking and writing are dear to him. As he stated in an interview with Jeremy Paxman, “..I think my main fear is of being incapacitated or imbecilic at the end. That of course, is not something to be afraid of, it’s something to be terrified of.”
For those of you who are wondering, the misquote in the title is intentional. Pain is a part of this life, and pain is usually a part of dying. Pain is a fleeting thing, though, in the life of a believer. I have put my faith in the God of the Bible and his son, the Christ. Due to the fact of that belief in God and His promises, my outlook is this: Death is temporary, and Life is eternal. Not the other way around.
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” The Apostle Paul