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The Speed of Light

June 15, 2019 (436 words)

Wendell Berry is now 84 years old. The poet, novelist, essayist and gentleman farmer is a well-known dissenter from nearly every aspect of modern life. He was born, raised, and still lives in Kentucky, maintains a healthy distance from any major metropolis, and does all his writing in longhand, with pen and paper.

Some feel the new 1,674 page boxed set of his collected essays, What I Stand On, is just way too much of the man. Critics find him mind-numbingly earnest as he bangs away at the same themes, over and over again. Having so much material gathered in one place only underscores this thematic weakness, in their view.

But countless readers find resonance in what he writes, and feel a strong kinship with Mr. Berry’s principled stands.

Rejecting most of the conveniences and “improvements” we take for granted, Berry the Christian moralist often finds himself at odds with the fashionable status quo. But as a conservationist and champion of local agriculture he does, occasionally, earn the praise of the progressive intelligentsia.

more than ever a prophetic voice…

“With the planet rapidly warming and the oceans acidifying, Berry seems more than ever a prophetic voice,” writes reviewer Dwight Garner in The New York Times:

”Come for the thunder. Stay, if you can, to dip more occasionally into these writings, rummage around on their ocean floor and return to the surface with gleaming fragments.

The main thing I take from Wendell Berry is the value of slowing down. If we want to figure things out and untie the knots that vex us, if we want to understand ourselves and the people around us better than we do now, it would help if we could stop moving through our lives at such a harried pace.

As the old poster once had it, the objective should be to “stand still and look, until you really see.”

The zeitgeist carries us along with its own intractable momentum. Our senses are engulfed without our fully realizing what is happening. We are maintained, as if in a petri dish or other lab experiment, in a perpetual state of acquisition and – from the male perspective – titillation.

This has us forever poised for the next big thing to buy or do, the next attractive female to fantasize about. Hardly even paying attention to where we are or who we are with at any given moment.

We are constantly being distracted from the care of the ones we should be closest to. And then we die.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
June 15, 2019

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