19 July 2011

The Way We Talk and The Way We Live

Do you want me to tell you a story?
Do you want me to tell you a story? asked “the man” to his son, “the boy,” in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.”

The world has been laid waste by global warming or nuclear war or meteor impact or we don’t know what, and only a few humans still live, among which are the man and the boy, who have been walking the road since before the boy has memory.

It’s mind-killingly boring (the walking, not the book), so the man tells the boy stories to pass the time and to lift their spirits by framing their eternal march in a gilding of noble tales about their good deeds along the way. Back to the man’s question, then.

Do you want me to tell you a story?
Why not?
The boy looked at him and looked away.
Why not?
Those stories are not true.
They don’t have to be true. They’re stories.
Yes But in the stories we’re always helping people and we don’t help people.

What are you doing in the stories that you tell? What framework have you constructed to most flatteringly display your actions of the day, the month, the hour? Are you the tragic hero of a Shakespearean drama, perpetually misunderstood, repeatedly conspired against despite your princely heart?

What would the boy say about the stories you tell? Would he ask for them because they are true and good and a comfort on the road, or would he say, “No. In the stories we’re always helping people and we don’t help people?”

I have a boy (two, actually). He is four, and he is beginning to look back and forth between the stories that I tell and the memories that he knows. I am teaching him how to think about himself in relation to his world, whether I like it or not.

Those little boy muscles straining in his back against the weight of a full beach bucket will grow, are growing even now as he breathes in his sleep, into the sinewy strength of a man, for good or for ill or for naught. My stories will set the carriage of his face and the lean of his mind, until the day comes when his boy has become my man. So what stories do I want to him to hear? And how closely do I want those stories to fit reality?

I want the boy to hear that we are the kind of people who help, that we are the kind of men that a traveller will thank God for having brought him to because we are keeping the flame (McCarthy’s phrase and mine). And I want those stories to fit what he sees. I want him to see not that we are as selfish as post-apocalyptic cannibals, but that we carry neighborly love, chivalry, and the clean fear of God like a lantern on a midnight highway.

Those are the stories I want to tell. And those are the only stories I have room to live, God help me.


Stephen said...

I'm just thinking about the moments of grace in that book. Kind of off topic but soooo good.

Beninwinnipeg said...

Cool piece! I did like that little bit of the book - as I do your take on it. The difficulty of the point comes to life when you can relate to the man in that situation.

The site is looking awesome by the way.

Daren Redekopp said...

So true, Ben. Thanks for your thought.

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