The New Year began grey and wet. Clouds hung low over Birmingham; so low that the radio towers on Red Mountain poked through the think mist. The drive in to town was miserable, and I felt bad for every car on the interstate with a license plate from somewhere other than Alabama. I imagined that everyone I knew felt about like the weather looked – absolutely miserable. Normally I found that sort of weather to be comforting, but on that day it just felt painful – dull, blunt, numb. The New Year was ushered in with a deep, overwhelming sense of loss. Everything felt like a void. There was a giant hole and from it would come some new beginning, but we did not know what it would be.
I have always hated the first few weeks after Christmas. I think all Americans, but Southerners in particular, have been conditioned to view cold weather only in the context of Christmas. How then do we respond to the cold once Christmas has gone? We – my wife and I – are Episcopalians, and so we acknowledge the twelve days of Christmas and Twelfth Night, but the truth is that somewhere between Christmas night and New Year’s Eve it all falls apart, and I find myself hoping that I have enough new books and movies to keep me preoccupied until the bowl games start. The older I get the more I understand why so many people leave town the week after Christmas and head to the beach or the mountains or to a distant relative. It is a distraction, an escape, from all of the boredom. The leaving is an upper in the middle of a week that is a ferocious downer.
Is this what Faulkner saw? A Southern landscape completely devastated and struggling to cope? Those plantation wives must have stood on their front porches in disbelief, wondering what had happened. Walker Percy saw it too in our age. Now pay attention – I am not name dropping. I am making a sincere point. We are now all living Love in the Ruins, desperately fighting off the savages and trying to find the reason for this deep and penetrating malaise. Percy died nearly twenty years ago, but he would have been fascinated by our age. Our interconnected technology and our ability to learn and half-way experience practically anything all with a few key strokes, and yet the stark reality that we are more alone than ever, known in part to the whole world but unknown to practically everyone, including ourselves.
And so another year begins with a prevailing despair. And yet we hope, not because we have some sad sack Hegelian attempt to triumph through sheer force of will, but instead because light shines in darkness. And that is all. I did not mean to be nonchalant, but only to set forth that all of this is beyond my control but instead that the loss is our daily course. To see otherwise is to find a ray of light in a dark cave and to hope beyond all hope.