A Terror of Living
By Wayne Allensworth
The sprawl of the DFW “Metroplex” sometimes takes on the aspect of a vast concrete hive, the intricate, winding curves of interlocking freeways like tunnels channeling the inhabitants of that supersized apiary to their various destinations. Gray office buildings seem to fly by, their long rows of standardized window panes signifying the locus of cells for drones who sit in cubicles staring at screens, wondering where their lives have gone.
A society that truly has atomized. The normless state of anomie.
Is this all there is? Is this what we wanted?
The things one thinks of when driving to a funeral.
The deceased, we’ll call her “Mrs. B,” had attended our church regularly until her condition deteriorated to the point that she became what used to be called a “shut in.” Then came the corona virus scare. And the elderly Mrs. B was left alone in terrible isolation, buried in a tiny “assisted living” apartment by a cruel “lockdown.”
Mrs. A, a kind-hearted woman who had taken it upon herself to aid the old people of our congregation, would sometimes stand outside the widowed Mrs. B’s window. She would tap on it, attempting to speak through the glass while Mrs. B, confined to wheelchair, strained to hear her voice.
I couldn’t help but think that there had to be some better way to manage the wellbeing of such as Mrs. B, the dangers the corona virus presented to people like her notwithstanding.
My own elderly father has simply ignored the virus, saying he’d take his chances and see his grandchildren and great grandchildren as often as he could. What would his life be without their tender presence? A little ray of light since my mother passed on over five years ago.
But I digress.
Before the lockdown, Mrs. B, a reader of Chronicles magazine, a publication that I have been associated with for nearly thirty years, had enjoyed my weekly visits. Our discussions concerned what had appeared in the magazine, the writers, society and culture, religion, and history, personal and otherwise, subjects that appealed to a literate and thoughtful person.
I had enjoyed our time together, and for just a little while, before Mrs. B tired, she would seem to light up, to become animated and lively.
Now I have a box of books to remember her by. The books seem like a collective talisman, something connecting the possessor to a wonderous world that is fading quickly in a post-literate age.
Sifting through the volumes, I find Dostoevsky’s The Possessed (I think I see them all around nowadays), Jean Raspail’s prophetic The Camp of the Saints, Robert Nisbet’sseminal The Quest for Community, and, to my mind, a most poignant volume entitled “Image of America: Early Photography: 1836-1900.”
In that volume, I see the images of our ancestors, unsmiling and serious, jubilant, and weary, but so alive. Gold seekers on the Yukon trail in Alaska. A group of survivors of an Indian massacre. A Virginia county fair. Scenes from the Colorado River.
It seems to me that is not only an inordinate fear of death that has drained the vitality of secularized post-modern people, but a terror of living. A terror fed by the utopian notion that we must seek to stamp out every bit of perceived risk around us, making a complete, fulfilling life impossible.
I see the flags ahead.
Mrs. B’s mortal remains are to be interred at the DFW National Cemetery, alongside those of her husband.
The cemetery is rows and rows of simple markers for ordinary Americans. I stop and look down at a marker for a navy veteran, a marker that matches all the others, telling of a branch of service, the conflict that particular veteran had served in, the dates of birth and death. Perhaps a brief sentiment. The marker I focus on reads “Loving Son.”
The day is overcast, the crowd quite small.
The group quietly arranges itself around the pavilion. Our Pastor reads a brief graveside service, and somewhere during our transition from the Lord’s Prayer to the warm, effecting lyrics of Abide in Me, the sun breaks through the clouds and I feel its heat on my black coat.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Driving home, the clouds clear off entirely, and the gray drabness of the concrete landscape dissipates. On an overpass ahead, I see a banner hanging from the rail.
It reads: Jesus or Hell.
Wayne Allensworth is a Corresponding Editor of Chronicles magazine. He is the author of The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, and a novel, Field of Blood.