Christopher Hitchens has died. His death by this point was anything but unexpected. For months we knew from others and from himself about his struggle with cancer. It seemed as if all of his opus was wrapped up not into the disease itself, which we could not know, but the issue of disease, which is the issue of death, which is the issue of the fundamentals of life.
Many if not all of us disagreed with at least some of Hitchens' ideas, in at least some fundamental way. And yet there was always a sense that he spoke directly to us, that the conversation he was carrying out was one that involved us. For all his erudition, for his wealth of experience that eclipsed many of our own (or at least mine), and for his acerbic wit and his mastery of English prose, he was still with us as he spoke, still as if sitting beside us with his whiskey and a burning cigarette.
This was his greatest gift: presence. He seemed to be there as he wrote about the issues that shape our lives. And then there was his literary criticism, which was exacting, incisive, but not unmerciful. His love of the art of literature didn't soften his criticism, but enriched it. He attacked the task of criticism with the deft touch of an artist.
There was often reason to feel an antagonism towards Hitchens. It was not just his talent, but his confidence which could inspire this antagonism. His ideas didn't have those warbles of doubt, the "maybes" or the "just mights" that separated him from others who spoke or speak in more bombastic terms but with less conviction. He was a true voice -- a voice that could be hear on paper.
Despite the antagonism, despite his ability to inevitably take a lash to the beliefs we hold too sacred to even touch, it's hard to imagine how anyone could have been anything other than saddened by the news of his illness, or, now, humbled by the passing of his life. He will be greatly missed.