The notorious stage theory of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, whereby one progresses from denial to rage through bargaining to depression and the eventual bliss of “acceptance,” hasn’t so far had much application in my case. In one way, I suppose, I have been “in denial” for some time, knowingly burning the candle at both ends and finding that it often gives a lovely light. But for precisely that reason, I can’t see myself smiting my brow with shock or hear myself whining about how it’s all so unfair: I have been taunting the Reaper into taking a free scythe in my direction and have now succumbed to something so predictable and banal that it bores even me. Rage would be beside the point for the same reason. Instead, I am badly oppressed by a gnawing sense of waste. I had real plans for my next decade and felt I’d worked hard enough to earn it. Will I really not live to see my children married? To watch the World Trade Center rise again? To read—if not indeed write—the obituaries of elderly villains like Henry Kissinger and Joseph Ratzinger? But I understand this sort of non-thinking for what it is: sentimentality and self-pity. Of course my book hit the best-seller list on the day that I received the grimmest of news bulletins, and for that matter the last flight I took as a healthy-feeling person (to a fine, big audience at the Chicago Book Fair) was the one that made me a million-miler on United Airlines, with a lifetime of free upgrades to look forward to. But irony is my business and I just can’t see any ironies here: would it be less poignant to get cancer on the day that my memoirs were remaindered as a box-office turkey, or that I was bounced from a coach-class flight and left on the tarmac? To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
What Hitchens demonstrates here, in his gorgeous prose which is so full of the force of life, is the sort of open-handed willingness which too-often escapes us but is the essence of surrender. Because Hitchens is willing–because he is more opened than closed–it would not surprise me to see him still here to do some of those things he writes of. He may not have ascended Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s steps to let his curious mind and open heart explore his new vista, but he has double-timed his way to wisdom.
Whether the wisdom will be “made perfect,” in Christ we may never know. Hitchens is a stubborn cuss, and God knows him well, but the rest of us do not. And no one knows what happens in the deepest recesses of the human heart and soul, in those infinitesimal moments wherein we are still half-here and mostly gone.
Hitchens would hate to know that he is giving deeply Christian instruction, here. That confounding Holy Spirit, again; always using the most surprising of tools, to teach.