Culture / Literature

From Hemingway to Hitchens ~ Death in the Afternoon

If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them … It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there is no special hurry. ~ Ernest Hemingway

Ketchum, Idaho, July 2, 1961 – Ernest Hemingway was found dead of a shotgun wound in the head at his home here today.  Mr. Hemingway, whose writings won him a Nobel Prize and a Pulitzer Prize, would have been 62 years old July 21.

Houston, Texas, December 15, 2012 – On Thursday, the world killed another man. He could be very good and very gentle and very brave and he could be none of these things. It killed him too soon but, then again, there seemed no special hurry. Mr. Hitchens turned 62 years old in April.

There is something about the death of a writer – however he decides to die or the world decides to kill him. Perhaps, his death seems more heroic or more tragic than other deaths.

For him – the really good writer – there is clarity and power. It is more than that though. His pen is dipped in a wisdom and imagination that separates him from the pretenders.  When he has finished his work and the ink has dried, he has left on the page for us something so real that it is magical. True.  So then, when he goes and takes all of that magic and with him it is something. Really something.

Christopher Hitchens was a war correspondent, father of two families, son of suicide and, above all, a writer.  He is gone.

Cancer. He fought it like a bull – a grand Encino bull, raging against the matador Death who, while not his match in so many ways, would certainly be his better in this contest. Cancer would bait him, poke and prod him and exhaust him until, in its final thrust, it would take him. There, in the Plaza de Toros de Pamplona, like so many bulls before him, he would suffer and die in the ring. He’d fought better than most of the others and so died a good death.  They’d call it heroic.

Ernest Hemingway was a war correspondent, father of two families, son of suicide and, above all, a writer .  He died of his own hand a half century ago.

Hemingway was the matador killed by the bull Death who he was no longer better than in any way. The nerve that had made him so great when he was young left him as he grew older. He fought long and hard to get old, but the age wore him out. He suffered and died in the ring. He’d fought better than most but not as long as some. And so, he died a bad death. They’d call it tragic.

Death comes as the matador and the bull.  And, it will have its way.

Hitch died the way Hem would have preferred – in a gallant, defiant display. A man’s goodbye. But, Hitch could still write until his goodbye.  Hem could not.

To think, to feel, to journey, to challenge, to laugh, to cry, to love and to hate was to write.  Hitchens fought the matador for that – to do all the important things to the very end.  Hemingway surrendered to the bull when the writing was done – the important things were already over.

Is one kind of death really better than the other?  When we die, what will they call it?



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