A friend at Ricochet shared a link to Peter Hitchens' public response to the death of his famous, militant atheist brother, Christopher, yesterday. It's a beautiful and moving tribute from someone with a philosophical habit of mind.
Much of civilisation rests on the proper response to death, simple unalloyed kindness, the desire to show sympathy for irrecoverable loss, the understanding that a unique and irreplaceable something has been lost to us. If we ceased to care, we wouldn’t be properly human.
The relationship between the two was notoriously fraught with tension. But Peter's admiration for his brother and his grief over the loss is real and palpable.
Here’s a thing I will say now without hesitation, unqualified and important. The one word that comes to mind when I think of my brother is ‘courage’. By this I don’t mean the lack of fear which some people have, which enables them to do very dangerous or frightening things because they have no idea what it is to be afraid. I mean a courage which overcomes real fear, while actually experiencing it...
I’ve mentioned here before C.S.Lewis’s statement that courage is the supreme virtue, making all the others possible. It should be praised and celebrated, and is the thing I‘d most wish to remember.
He speaks of the meaasure of peace they found with each other in Christopher's final months, which came partly from the way death brings childhood vividly back to mind. And he ends with some poetry that his brother would perhaps have scorned while he lived, but may (let us hope and pray!) recognize for Truth now.
Two pieces of verse come to mind, one from Hilaire Belloc’s ’Dedicatory Ode’
‘From quiet homes and first beginnings, out to the undiscovered ends, there’s nothing worth the wear of winning but laughter and the love of friends’
I have always found this passage unexpectedly moving because of something that lies beneath the words, good and largely true though they are. When I hear it, I see in my mind’s eye a narrow, half-lit entrance hall with a slowly-ticking clock in it, and a half-open door beyond which somebody is waiting for news of a child who long ago left home.
And T.S.Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’ (one of the Four Quartets)
‘We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time’
These words I love because I have found them to be increasingly and powerfully true. In my beginning, as Eliot wrote elsewhere in the Quartets, is my end. Alpha et Omega.