Thursday, April 12, 2007

Good Night, Mr. Vonnegut, Wherever You Are

There was a disturbance in the ether sometime yesterday, though I did not feel it, did not know it had occured until about 7:05 am this morning when my radio alarm woke me to the news that Kurt Vonnegut had died. The literati of the world have lost a friend. And humanists, both secular and Christian, have lost their voice.

I picked up his last book, A Man Without A Country, in an airport on a trip to Seattle this January, though at the time, of course, I didn't know that it was his last book. I think he knew, though. It is his valediction, his letting go. In these pages, he no longer warns his readers that our ability to exist on this earth is contingent on our prudent use of natural resources. Like the street corner prophet we no longer believe, he tells us the end is near. He says, "And nobody can do a thing about it. It's too late in the game."

However, Vonnegut to the end, he does not leave us with a despairing final opus. He points us back to those things that make us human: altuism, mercy, the crafting of peace. Marveling at our determination to post the old testament words of Moses in public buildings, he asks why there is no outcry for the display of the Beatitudes of Christ. In this warlike time, meekness, mercy, and peace are out of fashion for most of us, but Vonnegut has never given up on these attributes that are the focus of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.

I had thought I would place the book in the library when I finished it, but I found I could not part with it after all, and so I must point Vonnegut's following to the 800s section on the shelves, where his novels take their place with the works of his literary peers. Of the choices there, I recommend particularly Cat's Cradle. Not for the faint of heart, the book satirizes all elements of society, stripping civilization down to the cold hard bone--and reminding us that we find our true selves in the marrow of bone, not in the fragility of flesh.

Mr. Vonnegut, I know you do not believe in life after life, but I hope you have been pleasantly surprised. You always loved a good laugh.