Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fan Mail

     I can't say it enough: write someone your respect and admire. In 2009 I wrote journalist, author, speaker, anti-theist, and wit, Christopher Hitchens. I first heard him on a nationally syndicated radio talk show debating religion. Whether or not you agreed with this position, you quickly realized that he was an extremely intelligent man and a fantastic debater. He was also civil and composed (although there are plenty of interviews where he bares his fangs). He was also a great writer and literary critic. He read voraciously, smoked, drank, and as he once said, "burned the candle at both ends." He died from complications of esophageal cancer in 2011. I miss his great mind and I sometimes wonder what Mr. Hitchens would say about this/that major international or domestic political dustup, election, or personality. 

     Christopher Hitchens wrote prodigiously, published in many periodicals, and was a constant presence on television. So I wasn't expecting anything in response when I mailed a handwritten letter thanking him for an article about Army Lt. Mark Daily. It is an article about Lt. Daily's life and decision to join the military, in large part due to Christopher Hitchens' pro-war writings. Hitchens was that persuasive. He had a moral compass that pointed true north; and evidence of that was the quality and diversity of the friends -- Christian, Jew, Muslim, secular, Republican, Democrat -- that filled his life.  And his quest to defend liberty, equality, and to destroy the Islamic extremists that tried to impose their evil on the world through bloodshed and destruction.

A few days after he received my letter he wrote me a short e-mail:

Dear Lieutenant Nelson,
For the son of Commander Eric Hitchens of the Royal Navy it is impossible to decline an invitation from anyone named Nelson, let alone anyone named Nelson who is writing from Pearl Harbor.
I do not know how you picture the meeting between myself and a "group of young, impressionable officers" but if such a thing could be arranged I would be delighted to form a part of it.
As to Twain, I think his anti-Christian satires - some of which will appear in my Portable Atheist - are to be ranked with his anti-war polemics, most especially the one about the "victory" in the Moro Islands. But to my graduate students I always recommend the after-dinner talk on self-abuse that he gave to a meeting of the Stomach Club in Paris. It used to be hard to find, and available only in a volume called The Unknown Mark Twain or some such, but it can now be reaped from the web as well.
Thank you for your kind words on my little essay on Lt Daily. I have been very happy, on his family's behalf, at the slight success of that piece.
Christopher Hitchens

     I found the Mark Twain "dinner talk" he recommended. It is hilarious. I knew Twain was saucy, I had read a lot of his essays, but his talk on "self-abuse" knocked me out of my chair. You can indeed find it online.

     I was on the moon after I read that e-mail. Later that week I sent him a challenge coin (a small coin that represents a military unit or command) in gratitude. He wrote me back:

Just opened it: most grateful and appreciative. By all means let us consider ourselves in touch. Let me know if you ever come in this direction.

I always wanted to drop by his amazing apartment (it was FULL of books) in D.C. and chat about politics, philosophy, and literature. Unfortunately I never got to.  So don't wait.  Write someone you respect and admire.  They may just write you back and even might ask you over for a drink -- you never know.

I recommend you read his piece about Lt Daily over at Vanity Fair.  Linked Here.


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