I was honored to be an usher at my old friend's Memorial Service today in New York, and frankly relieved not to read anything because the quality of the presentations – from James Fenton's astonishing opening poem to Martin Amis's brilliantly brief eulogy of Christopher in all his contradictory genius – were close to flawless.
The evangelical scientist Francis Collins played piano; Peter Hitchens read from Saint Paul; but most of the material was Hitch's writing itself. And it was some of his most vivid, powerful prose. I particularly admired his evisceration of Bill Clinton, a reminder of what a complete tool that man was, and his heart-breaking take-down of the North Korean totalitarian dynasty.
I remain in awe of his energy, his human force, his impatience with cant, his great gift of insult, his inimitable courage, his deep enjoyment of living. And two things surprised.
Amis spoke of Christopher's private struggle with his embrace of the Iraq war. He never recanted as I did. Indeed, one of our more heated recent chats was over his enthusiasm for a new war against Iran. But the idea that he did not feel the pain of isolation, of misjudgment, that this humane man was immune to the suffering that this horrifying war entailed for so many innocents, and took no personal responsibility for it, is untrue. He told Martin that in the period when the war was at its worst, he was in a "world of pain." Being a contrary public writer, being prepared to lose friends over principle, challenging one's own "side", and forever braced for battle, takes a toll. Hitch bore it with great aplomb. That does not mean he had nothing to bear.
And then his last words. As he lay dying, he asked for a pen and paper and tried to write on it. After a while, he finished, held it up, looked at it and saw that it was an illegible assemblage of scribbled, meaningless hieroglyphics. "What's the use?" he said to Steve Wasserman. Then he dozed a little, and then roused himself and uttered a couple of words that were close to inaudible. Steve asked him to repeat them. There were two:
In his end was his beginning.
I've been very down lately, and I feared a Memorial Service would not help much. But as we walked outside afterwards to the hilarious tune of the Internationale, I felt fortified, re-energized, inspired, almost buoyant. There is no competition, as Eliot noted. But there is always the struggle to expose lies, dispense with cant, tell the truth and just bloody well get on with it.
Of course, I do not believe Hitch has disappeared from reality. But even if he has, his example raises all our standards, and begs for us to follow him in slaying sacred cows with wit and merciless accuracy. He inspired love in so many for one reason. He was true to himself, and he loved the world. And what was so truly moving about his final years – especially in his campaign against religion – was how much, how overwhelmingly, so many who never even met him loved him, and I mean loved him, back.