A Holiday Meditation on Contingency
These holidays, I recommend to America Seneca's unorthodox toast: bibamus, moriendum est. Drink up, for die we must. I promise to justify such lines as not grim, but rather ultimately palliative both to individuals and to our civil society en masse.
This time of the year, one does well to articulate the residual virtue he still sees alive in his declining republic, and to give thanks for it. And a full frontal view of the precipice affords the fortitude to countenance what thankfully we are not.
In the first place, we conservatives are not utopians. Progressives are. As such, we acknowledge that all things shall come to pass. It had to come to this, one way or another.
Moreover, American exceptionalists though we be, we do not belong to the party of electoral messianists, either: that's the Democrats and the Europeans. America may have been the leader of the world for a century, but she has never been "the hope of the earth," as Romney creepily asserted (counting myself among religious messianists, I'll abide no false idolatry.)
Blithe might be the taste of truth at first, but its patriotic savor is both deep and lasting, and thus, I say: if the end of an American order is upon us, then let us greet it with full hearts and set jaws.
Crisis fixes resolve in the breast of man like no other motive. Let us bid farewell to our republic first, as we should with any desideratum, and thereafter fight for its perseverance. In the case that hope may be left for resuscitation, acceptance and appraisal of the crisis at hand brings about our best fighting chance.
While it is perhaps true that "there is no life in the void" of utter despair (avoid despair, friends!), there is a great deal of life on the brink of the void.
So live there. During danger, crisis, or sorrow, one's temporal and spatial horizons contract. Many conservatives have taken the past few weeks "one day at a time." We retreat to family -- man's properly fitted community -- whose defense is the purpose of civil society in the first place.
Taking crisis "one day at a time," a couple of truly blessed things come to pass. If he allows it, a transformation just might take root in one's soul: acceptance. The general blur of his life on this bustling planet slows to a suddenly transparent intelligibility, allowing him for once to drink deep from the simple pleasures of everyday phenomenology. The horizon closes in upon him, shortening the daytime. He is suddenly tuned in to his participation among the greater scheme of things. And sometimes, the spirit is even rejuvenated and restored to the fight.
I learned this lesson as a younger man.
My first daughter was born in Italy. My wife engaged her pregnancy with enthusiasm and vigor. But, healthy as she was, by the eighth month of gestation, an Italian doctor looked at our final ultrasound, and broke our hearts: "Something's wrong with baby's brain."
Petrified, we were ordered to Fate Bene Fratelli, Rome's biggest hospital, to have our baby born by caesarian. In haste, I typed out an inarticulate message of terror -- an S.O.S. of sorts -- to my family.
Our baby was born two days later, her head huge from the hydrocephalus. Immediately -- before my sainted wife could even meet her -- she went by helicopter to a different neo-natal hospital.
Someone needed to go to the big university hospital outside town and properly greet our new daughter: me. My task was dignified by my fear and trembling, I see now in retrospect. It was after one a.m., and I had not slept for two days. I navigated the dark campus to track down a doctor, to whom I would address my new, life-defining inquiry: If you please, what is my little baby's prognosis?
Funny: I remember asking that question afresh every day or so for the first six months. Yet after four years, the answer remains hopefully indefinite. After a month in the hospital, we began three-per-week consults with specialists of all manner. Even Stateside, our routine and our uncertainty lasted.
But not knowing the prognosis through all this, we self-attuned to a shred of the otherwise invisible calm and divinity of life as contingent beings. No man is sufficiently provident as to know what's around the bend. And no one thrives when trying to. So don't.
I urge this lesson of contingency to my country.
My seasonal admonitions for my countrymen are a few in number. First: accommodate notions of the worst case scenario, now and again. Glimpse the abyss, here and there, to remember that even Achilles was a mortal. Second: like Father Abraham, banish what you love from your heart, only to take it up again, redeemed! Only by forfeiture shall we locate true thankfulness in the heart. Third: thank God for family and friends -- both newfound and lifetime proofed. They will be at your side as the heavens fall. Hold them to your bosom as often as you remember, and know them for all their many goodnesses. Look not to the ways in which they've done you injury. These will be your countrymen, by and by. Fourth: become hardened in all this: only a calloused soul abides tenderness.
Lastly: drink deep and enjoy the residual virtue of the thing. Honor still abides in the breast of many a citizen. Family and community live, even if the Fed has become a Leviathan, a mongrel beast crept from the wild. Let it not in the house, for it lives far from home.
So, ready your constitutions for the end. Bid erstwhile notions of the republic farewell in your hearts. Rend these -- your hearts -- "and not your garments"; after all, the Lord shall break our stony hearts, He promises. Take the Christmas season and pour out libations in memory of that res publica by which we've walked and been nurtured. Drink deep. From here on out, let us ask what we can give to it.
Then, once the holidays pass, awaken in the morning refreshed and do what you can to save America's very life! Even having said adieu, we may yet be able to grasp that which we seek to sustain. But seek not after certainty. In our contingency, we may yet prevail.