Returning from a meeting in Philadelphia, I followed a route I often favor to avoid I-95, to savor the country roads. Today those roads seemed different. The brownish-gray fog of a late afternoon harvest dust oppressed the landscape as if all of nature took on the cloak of mourning for the Amish girls lost in a madman’s frenzy. Scenes along the way: cornfields brown and flat, stubble reaching to the sky; the dying of the fall, the dead already here. Children in bonnets and straw hats, wearing severe blue-and-black garb, trudging along the side of the road, school books dangling; an older girl reaches back to keep the trailing little ones close. Motel and diner signs punctuate the Route 30 view: AARP discounts, free Internet access, homemade apple pies, buy pumpkins now, pray for the children. Words of comfort and solidarity for neighbors in Nickel Mines, the small town where the unthinkable is now the news.
Cormac McCarthy’s new work The Road is a meditation on the end of civilization. Critics have assumed that the scorched-to-bedrock landscape of his nightmare is the result of nuclear annihilation, but I found his tale to be an allegory of the power of human destruction in many forms. The cannibalism McCarthy portrays so bleakly is not some distant imagining but a graphic metaphor for the insatiable evil of humans preying upon the weakest among us.
In The Road a father and son trudge through the landscape of the apocalypse, clinging to the idea that they are “the good guys” while they seek refuge from “the bad guys” who are the mad remnants of the human race. Through intense suffering and even terror, hope remains alive.
Hope remains alive through the great sorrow in Paradise and Nickel Mines and the Amish community in southern Pennsylvania. In the Amish tradition, even as the community prepares to bury the young victims, words of forgiveness echo across the fields. Such is the power of great faith.