It’s just words…is that what Christopher Hitchens would say?

It is the first night of Hanukkah and the beginning of the ‘festival of lights’.  It is five days before Christmas.  Earlier this month the Governor of our state chose a war of words when he declared that a Christmas tree – in the State House – would henceforth be proclaimed as the Holiday Tree.  And the battle of words began with a resounding press release.

I went to the State House that night – told no one I was going.  Just watched and observed.  Saw the children singing, uncertain to be happy or apologetic for being there.  I saw the Boston College professor who looked intrigued carrying his mammoth umbrella and wearing his academic looking, unstylish trench coat, as he heard the beginnings of the protestors ‘O Christmas Tree” and he shook his head in an ACLUish disbelief and left the building.  I watched some unfortunate hangers-on who follow things like this excited as children on Christmas morning as they sang and held up their signs saying ‘It’s a Christmas Tree!”.

I talked about this issue with friends and colleagues.  I was fascinated by the conversations, the reactions.  I rolled the ideas over as if doing a dementia-preventing word exercise.  There was a hesitancy to carry on the conversation for very long.  I was quite disappointed.  To those who disagreed or saw this as only a small matter, I usually heard “it’s just words”.

“It’s just words??”  What could be more beautiful than words?  What could be larger than words?  Why, words are everything.  Words are how I spend my time…crafting them to sell a product, to tell a story, to persuade, to express emotion.  Words are what served me well for most of a very shy life…want to know what I think, who I am?  Here, read this.  Read something I wrote.

This week Christopher Hitchens died.  I disagreed with him on just about everything.  But I loved his mind, and oh, I loved his words.  I would linger at what was almost a visual, mechanical working of his brain and the words would flow.  I think about the toy I had when I was young.  It was a see through clock and you could see the pieces turning, and clicking and – snap – the arms would move and another minute had passed.  That is what it was like to listen to Hitchens speak.  The more controversial the subject the better the show was.

Sometimes when people argue to make a point you can get enraged with anger or frustration.  I should have been angry or frustrated with Hitchens feelings and thoughts – the very anti-Christ, anti-God, anti-hope.  But he never angered me.  I had the utmost respect.  The turn of a phrase.  The endless possibility of thought.  The responsibility of freedom of speech.  And watching him go right to the edge – and would he? – would he? – yes, well, he would – he would go right off that edge and into the abyss of shock and awe!  I loved it.  I delighted in it.  I will miss him.  The video interviews.  The obscure interviews.  David Frost and Christopher Hitchens discussing imminent death.  Would his feeling change as he got closer to death?  Did he think he would give in to a vision of a higher being.  He might.  But don’t believe me, because I will be rightly out of my mind by then!  Beautiful….breathtaking…titillating words.

So as the first candle is lit this night, I hear of plans to hold another state house non-event.  But this one has been designated “a menorah lighting” – so, we have a secular tree and a religious menorah.

I was prepared for a Hitchens moment.  Tell us all – tell our Jewish friends – that it is a candleholder! Tell us it is a candelabra!  Stick to it, Mr. Governor!  Let us dialogue, engage, debate….give us our moment to exercise our brains….are you even half a Hitchens?

Alas, no, no Hitchens here, just a confused man.  A man who took words and uttered them without definitive, thought out purpose.  They just spewed forth like a D student enamored with existential fiction or philosophy.  In that case, I think these were ill chosen words.  They were no Hitchens moment. I think of Buddah’s quote, “Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill”.

And I think about the quote, “with great power comes great responsibility”.  So let us have silence now…as we watch the menorah light this night, marking eight days of oil where there was only one…..and as the Christmas tree lights burn brightly heralding a miraculous birth…  We could do with some softly falling snow, and no more words just now….

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