During times of my routine gloominess, I find myself contemplating about the macabre, and it engulfs me in the realization that we are all dying. With every passing second, with every collapsing neuron, with every lost friend, we crawl closer to our curtain call, and then, it is “hello darkness my old friend.” There, another realization hits me on the head: some people have a rather accelerated process of dying.
You, assuming that you’re healthy and well, and I, are lucky to be dying at an average pace. Not everyone is as lucky as us. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people may be getting diagnosed with a terminal illness at this very moment. How, do you assume, they might be feeling? Sad? Obviously. Fearful? Possibly. Courageous? Hopefully. Maybe, calm?
“Mortality” is a 2012, posthumously published book by the author and journalist Christopher Eric Hitchens. It consists of eight chapters, seven of which were first published as separate essays in Vanity Fair, where Hitchens served as a contributing editor since 1992. The essays were published as a series from late 2010, when Hitchens was diagnosed with third stage esophageal cancer, till December 2011, the time of his demise. The final chapter consists of random jottings of his thoughts, which are as haunting as they are beautiful. “Mortality” is a heartbreaking masterpiece, documenting the gradual decline of a world-renowned intellectual. For me though, the inexplicable brilliance of the book is conjured up by the fact that the subject being documented, as it dwindles into the abyss, is the author himself.
The way Hitchens talks about death, as a correspondent from “tumorville”, is comical in an eerie way. I’ve never read anyone who displays the ability to strip the mysteriousness off of death quite like Hitchens. Although, he confesses his envy for the healthy, saying that, had he known that he would live as long as he did, he would have taken care of himself, he doesn’t sound at all crestfallen with the thought of his own passing. On the contrary, Hitchens accepts death as a part, rather, the meaning,of life. He puts it something like this: we are born so we can die to make room for the next generation. That being said, Hitchens constantly reminds us that we should be ashamed to die until we’ve done something good for another. For Hitchens, the thought that he might lose his ability to write, and hence, may die of boredom, was the biggest worry. The book is also known for its thorough dissection of Nietzsche’s quote, “that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The quote is put to the ultimate test as Hitchens applies it to every step of his chemotherapy.
“Mortality” is a book arguing for the inevitability and necessity of death. It is an intellectual guide, written by “the greatest orator of our generation,” on how to face death, and fight it till the drawing of the ultimate breath. The recognition and appreciation of the morality in mortality is conducive to a satisfying life. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did. It is relatively short, about 104 pages. Here’s a link:
 This is how Hitchens describes his state of being in the book.