You know how some of us have imaginary friends in our childhood? There’s the lonely boy who invents a friend to talk to; the bullied child who has a pretend friend who protects him; and the clumsy boy who has an imaginary friend who can make him fly?
Christopher Hitchens was my imaginary friend.
When you move from one country to another and English is not your first language, one (me, actually!) always feels at a disadvantage about communication skills. Unlike me, Christopher Hitchens had absolutely no apparent problem communicating. On the contrary, he used language in ways that made me feel awestruck.
Take for example statements such as:
“This year of living dyingly”, or; “we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.” Or, “This kind of modesty is too arrogant for me” and “The finest fury is the most controlled.”
These are statements that convey not only language skills, but depth and brilliance. I wish I could express myself like that – and with a British accent to boot!
Except for his opinion on the war in Iraq, he said little I disagreed with. I mostly thought he was as vibrant as life should be – he was courageous, and someone who lived life on his terms. In other words, I admired him and envied him.
It was always hard for me just to be who I am and not want to fill in the gaps – to be smarter, more eloquent, less afraid, more witty, erudite and extremely well read. He was all of that and so much more.
He traveled all over the world, and I traveled a little. His book knowledge was overwhelming, while I just read from time to time. He never seemed to hesitate about expressing his views and opinions, and- even though it doesn’t seem so, I do hesitate. And, I try not to offend even though I am not always successful.
We did have two things in common: We both visited synagogues all over the world, and we both had a father whose career was in the military. That’s where it ends. It’s not a lot, but even trivial commonalities seem significant when you desperately want to find similarities between yourself and someone whom you admire.
I always look for synagogues wherever I go, and despite not being religious I would get in touch with the energy, the vibrancy and the silent noise of the place. Here’s a synagogue that is being visited by tourists, or sometimes just by me, and yet I see men praying, swaying from side to side, tallit wrapping their shoulders – blue and white, blue and white, and the voices of my people.
You can imagine my surprise when I heard that Hitch used to do the same thing. He, the God of Atheism visited synagogues. Wow. We are alike! Please forgive my excitement.
Rabbi Wolpe and Hitch debate
The realization that he should be my imaginary friend came about years ago, when I had to think about who would be the person I would like to be with on a desert island. If I had to not consider my husband as a possibility (you see how I don’t want to offend…), it would be Mr. Hitchens.
I could imagine forgetting about being alone there, forgetting about boredom and isolation and letting go of the feeling of misery about being stuck there, if he were my buddy. I can envision long conversations about the trivial and the sublime, about history and current events and long arguments about the Middle East and the war in Iraq, but mostly learning how not to be afraid of expressing my opinions, allowing myself to be disliked more than I am already, and sleep well at night.
With my imaginary friend I would be more true to myself.
So even though Christopher Hitchens is gone, my imaginary friend will always be with me – to guide me, to make me laugh, and to teach me. My imaginary friend’s spirit is so transcendent, that he really is not imaginary after all.
Elvis may have left the building. Hitch did not.