Avoiding The Road. The 25th Anniversary.

For nine years I have avoided The Road. Perhaps longer.

I did not need the book description to know that I would avoid reading it. I picked it up, held it in my hand, and I knew. There was a little boy in it.

I have avoided other stories too. I have never watched Blood Diamond or The Pursuit of Happiness. I stopped reading The Kite Runner during the kite battle, before Hassan finds the kite. I turned off The Walking Dead as the bullet sliced through the deer. The boy fell in dead leaves and I have never watched another moment. I did watch Life is Beautiful. I had to, and I wept in front of my students, as if a man can be broken by fiction.

There are probably more stories that I have left in my spiritual wilderness over the years. I cannot know. It was never a conscious choice, a mental category that framed my yes and no. It was just there.

It is not for the words themselves that I set The Road aside. Its sparse narrative, torn images of a grey world, reveal the skeins of a thousand untold tales. In those few words a reader could learn to hate the sky, or love water, or forget the way forever. It is brilliant.

It was never the words, or even the images. It was the story.

It is always the story.

And in 2006 Cormac McCarthy told the story that I have never had the courage to tell.

Seasons change by the slow arc of the earth. Lives change by the collection of postcards and phone bills and mismatched socks. Somewhere over the unmeasured, bending moments of life, my reason for avoiding The Road has itself bent. But where it was uncertain in seasons past, it is certain to me now:

It is my son, wet and bruised and naked, skin turning blue because breath would not come, a sliver nearer to life than death.

It is my son, curious simian gate, tiny fingers slipping from mine in the crowd.

It is my son, at the breakfast table, cereal soggy because he has too many questions to ask.

Grief has a way of distilling life, so that the pixels of hard universal fact blur in the radiant palette of yellow to green to blue. So all of my life as a father is found on a single night, this night, when I was just a boy.

Smoke makes a sound as it suffocates you, exchanging cells of life for cells of death in your lungs. And I awoke.

I stood there in the darkness, rushing heat and smashing glass and thickening grey breath. I was inches from his door, my brother’s door. He would not wake on his own, I knew. He slept beneath heavy blankets, stuffed animals squeezed against his sweaty cheeks.

I could have touched that paneled door.

But I was afraid, and I turned away, trusting my father to save us. I knew he would do anything to see us live.

Fathers do anything to see their sons live.

My bare toes froze in the unseasonable cold. The front door closed to the flame and smoke. They remained inside, my father and brother. It was the end of their story.

And while I used to mourn my father and my brother, now I mourn my son, still living. If I were gone, what he would miss. What I would miss. My father missed so much.

So for twenty-five years I have avoided The Road. Perhaps longer.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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21 Responses to Avoiding The Road. The 25th Anniversary.

  1. Oh, Brenton. I am crying. I am torn between silence (because how can I say anything appropriate?) and saying simply anything (because I long to be a part of this moment and to let you know that I read, and heard.)

    Like

  2. jubilare says:

    “as if a man can be broken by fiction.” Anyone can be, if the conditions are right.

    hitting the “like” button on something like this never feels right to me. I don’t “like” this, exactly. I like the courage it took to craft and share it. I like the humanity of it, ache calling out to ache. But I don’t “like” it in a button-sense. I’m reminded of something my brother said to me not long ago. I paraphrase: “Being a dad opens you up to fiction involving children. Seeing a kid in danger, in a movie or show, now, rips right through me.”

    Like

  3. orthodoxmom3 says:

    I do not have words to express the emotion I have reading your words…. but I am awed by the words you have used to express your own emotion. God Bless you Brenton.

    Liked by 1 person

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  6. L.A. Smith says:

    So hard. Sometimes life is just not fair, and children have to suffer in unimaginable ways. And yet there is meaning in it all, too, in the midst of the suffering. I’m sure there is much more you could say about this defining event in your life, but you gave us enough to have a glimpse of the road you have walked, and are walking. I am so sorry this happened to you, and offer prayers that God is redeeming, and will yet redeem, even this.

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  13. Vicki Reddin-Gauthier says:

    Your family’s life is resonating with mine in the last few days, as we struggle along with two cancer diagnoses. I am in tears. Through your wonderful writing, I found my way to the picture of your mom and dad sitting in the sunny field. Young and adventurous as I knew them both to be. How could I forget what a beautiful couple they were? I couldn’t and I didn’t. I remember the urgency when Riel was born and the danger to both him and your mom. We arrived on the maternity ward with our last babe in arms as your folks were leaving. Riel entered this life in a storm of urgency and left it on a stormy night. In between, he gave so much joy to all who knew him or even got to hear his laughter for a moment.
    Thank you.

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    • Thank you for this beautiful note, Vicki. I had not thought of Riel’s life that way, bookended by storm and urgency. Best wishes to you in the cancer diagnoses. C.S. Lewis once wrote in a diary, “Cancer, and cancer, and cancer. My mother, my father, my wife. I wonder who is next in the queue.” It is the haunting worry of our generation. Best, Brenton

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      • Vicki Reddin-Gauthier says:

        I also appreciate your use of Cormac McCarthy’s style in telling this part of your family story this time. McCarthy’s use of a sparse style in describing the spiritually and geologically desolate wasteland the father and son travelled through conveyed so much of the sensations and emotions they were experiencing with so few words. As I recall, there were pages and pages where not much happened, but I still felt drawn in- one of the things I found fascinating about The Road. Not much like Tolkien!
        The simple detail of your bare toes touched me. We were away at the time of the fire and too sad when we got home to attend the funeral. I often wondered (and worried) if, on that dark miserably cold night as you waited for help to come, you and your sister were standing in the snow in bare feet. From fire to ice.
        I now have a copy of A Grief Observed. Other people’s experiences have helped me many times when I occasionally slide off into the pit of anticipatory grieving, which began to happen after my husband and daughter’s diagnosis five years ago. CS Lewis was one of my mom’s favourite thinkers, so she would approve! Thank you for the recommendation, too.

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        • I’m glad you got it, Vicki! Yes, I was mimicking McCarthy’s style, at least in this book (though “isolation” is a theme in his work in lots of ways).
          Fire and Ice, yes.
          Best wishes on all of this. A Grief Observed isn’t perfect, but it is real.

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