Amazing about Hitchens: his generosity to young people. He sought them out and befriended them. He responded when they called with requests to speak at their college, contribute to a symposium, or stand with any oppressed minority. He hated to say no to anything worthwhile, and cared less about getting paid than anyone I’ve ever known. After doing unaccountable favors for unimportant people, he named them comrades, which meant welcoming them into his circle of solidarity and acting as if they belonged in his home, with cocktails.
For an aspiring journalist in Washington, nothing could be headier than Christopher’s boozy instruction in radical politics and contemporary literature. I became one of his younger friends when I was still in college, taking a year off from school to be an intern at the New Republic. He called out of nowhere one day to say he liked something I’d written, and would I care to meet him for a cheap drink? More followed, at the townhouse on Capitol Hill where he lived with his first wife Eleni and at the grand, never quite furnished Kalorama apartment he shared with Carol Blue, which for two decades has been Washington’s window on Bohemia.
After a hangover out of Lucky Jim, I learned better than to try to drink like the Hitch. But his example was in every other way an inspiring one. Like all of us, he was often wrong, but never in the way everyone else was wrong. His originality was a constant, his independence an unstoppable engine. He loved to argue and debate, not because he was a bully but because he thought it pointed in the direction of truth. And possibly because he was better at it than anyone else. It was moving to see Christopher applying his integrity to the experience of dying. He went out on his own terms, with no sentimentality or regret, telling it straighter than anyone else would dare.
Here’s what I learned from Christopher Hitchens in the 25 years I knew him. Don’t let anyone else do your thinking for you. Follow your principles to the end. Don’t flinch from the truth. Repeat until the last ounce of strength drains from your body.