2006.07.26 The end of man

Written by David Green.

By JEFF PICKELL

“I decline to accept the end of man.”

The new situation in the Middle East had me plenty depressed before I learned last week that Mark Miller, my father’s best friend, had dropped dead, of nebulous causes, leaving behind his wife and teenage daughter.

It was easy enough to hide from the fighting in Israel and Lebanon, to sleep from dusk to dawn, to watch the same movie over and over, to read the same book, to wiggle my toes atop a bed of myopic routine. But the loss of a kind, thoughtful loved one, such as Mark, and so suddenly, was enough to jar me from this, and I had a period of immense feeling.

It was like the terrible things of the world sat at the base of my brain, like feathers and dust—every thought jostled them, they crashed and collided, built momentum off each other, filled my head with the unbearable noise of hurt.

I was in a funk—one causes the other. It happens sometimes.

As my mother and I sliced through Detroit’s downriver suburbs Saturday morning, bound for Grosse Ile and a funeral that was something of an extended family reunion, I found myself silently mouthing the words at the top of this column.

William Faulkner spoke them during his acceptance of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950. Advising that the Cold War had planted in young people a fear of the end of time, he implored listeners to forget this terror—forcibly—for such a terror leads us to look over the problems of the human heart.

Instead, we should focus on the struggle of man’s soul, of his spirit in turmoil, he said—these are the only issues worth our writing. Dwelling on death—actual, metaphorical, sensational and otherwise—is a sign that death has won, he said. That man is here and that he has made it this long is a sign we have prevailed over death, that we will continue to prevail over it, he said.

But as we sped past the colossal, abandoned steel plant in downtown Trenton, as I nudged with my shoe the kinked carcass of a snake near the bank of the Detroit River, as I stepped into the church and glimpsed the prostrate profile of a man I had always admired, it was hard to believe Mr. Faulkner.

I’m not wise. It has been said that young men should not utter maxims, so I won’t. But I also won’t be untrue and act as if my thoughts and actions are tempered with experience, act as if I don’t feel miserable and passionate and inconsequential and angry and euphoric sometimes.

Sometimes I want to hug everyone. Sometimes I want to scream at the sky. Sometimes I want a bowl of soup.

Last Saturday, in that sanctum, crowded with Mark’s friends—auto workers doubtlessly as worried about their jobs as Mark was, the desperate crew of a foundering vessel, fighting in turbulent tides—I wanted to decline to accept the end of man.

But I don’t even really know what that means.

“It will get better, won’t it?” I asked mom on our way back to Highland.

I don’t remember her reply. I don’t believe I was looking for one.

I went back to Trenton that night to bid my friend Joe, who’s leaving for Thailand, farewell. My friend Dolley was there. My friend Emo was there. My friend Kyle was there.

In the morning, we ate leftover pot stickers and argued about Neil Young.

I drove home, listening to the same episode of A Prairie Home Companion I heard on the way out. At one point, a tire on the car in front of me blew out and I swerved into the next lane to avoid the debris.

Darla the dog was waiting in her cage in mom’s room. After she piddled, we watched “You’ve Got Mail” on TV. I made a salami sandwich and cut it into halves. The smell of salami drives Darla up the wall. She slapped her paws into my thighs as I ate.

Finally, Jamie got home from work and we set off for the theater, where we watched “Clerks II.” We laughed and bumped elbows and stayed until the credits were over.

Afterward, I folded my laundry and left for Morenci. I listened to John Updike talk about his new novel, then listened to a piece about Emily Dickinson’s poem “Because I Could Not Stop for Death, He Kindly Stopped for Me.” I listened to a documentary about the redistribution of land in Africa and India.

I set my laundry on the desk at the top of the stairs. I had a glass of water. I realized I had forgotten my toothpaste in the back seat of my car, but was too tired to fetch it.

I laid myself down and closed my eyes. I wiggled my toes.

   - July 26, 2006

 

  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

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