Christopher Hitchens is a thorn to some and a champion to others, but to the cosmos he's nothing. The famous (or infamous, depending on your beliefs on religion) British Atheist is known for being up for a good fight; he now has a fight that is even daunting to his larger than life personality. That fight is against cancer but his acerbic wit is still, thankfully intact. In addition, his daunting challenge hasn't shaken his acceptance that none of us have guarantees in this life, which has prevented him from using too much of his precious days left to ask, "Why me?" His response to that question is almost koan material, which is ironic for not only a committed Atheist but a passionate advocate against religion altogether. To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: Why not?
It's not an easy thing to admit because it feels like we're losing control over our life. However, this life was never "ours" to begin with, which I think it partly why so many people go through the "5 stages of grief" when facing the exacting, unbending and non-discriminating bringer of death (but also other crises in our lives). It is said that the ego-driven mind goes through 5 stages of grief before finally accepting the inevitable. The stages are as follows: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance. Interestingly these stages seem to mirror the Buddhist process of accepting the reality of suffering and the impermanence of all phenomena. It's a thought that itches my brain with wondering, "Do awakened people such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh go through such a process when faced with death?" The answer chimes clearly like a temple bell calling all to meditation, "No, because if one hasn't accepted the unwavering power of impermanence and the delusion of our ego; how can one be fully awakened?" It makes me wonder too if most Buddhists are better prepared for death than others?
The Buddhist teaching that always comes to mind when I meditate and contemplate about the impermance of life comes from the famous and beautiful Diamond Sutra:
The Buddha asked, “Subhuti, if a man had a body as huge as a mountain, would he be a great man?” “No, Lord. Because “a great man” is only words, and being a great man is an illusion, created by the belief in ego.”
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream,
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream. --
So should you understand the world of the ego.”
Just as with life, it is terrifying to let go of all that we know but that rock we are clinging to is not giving us much comfort, which makes us cling to it tighter. Yet whether our mind lets go of trying to control life or not; sooner or later it will have to let go. Christopher Hitchens has let go and is accepting the possibility of death. It must be said, however, that some cancer survivors have said that cancer was the best thing that happened to them. They state that it freed them from a lot of emotional baggage and suffering that was preventing true peace and happiness from blossoming in their life previously. Everything happens for a reason--so let go. You won't regret it because that letting go might just allow you to fly high into the peaceful heavens of awakening.