My father did not challenge fate. He certainly didn’t scheme about getting ahead in the world. He was an intelligent man, who had boyhood dreams of becoming a physician. The owner of the movie theater, for whom he worked, had pledged to send him to college. But promises are only promises. They don’t necessarily come to pass, especially in years of great depression and world war. As a boy—and that’s, by far, the best word for it—I thought that my father should have been more adventurous, looked for a job better than managing a grocery store. Of course, as a boy, I sent off for Sea Monkeys, which didn’t do tricks as promised, and a model of a Lunar Lander, no further purchases required, so I thought. My parents had to extricate me from more than one bright promise, recklessly embraced.
Don DeLillo’s new novel, Zero K, is a father-son story, quite the opposite of my own. The father, Ross Lockhart, is an extremely successful entrepreneur, who leaves his first wife and, emotionally, never enters his son’s life.
As one of the earth’s powerful ones—so unlike my father—Ross becomes the ultimate entrepreneur. He defies death itself, by creating and funding a cult-like consortium, designed to preserve the bodies and brains of those about to die, until, at some point, in the not-too-distant future, they can be restored to a life beyond physical deterioration, beyond death. The plan, while they are suspended, inanimate, is for this world’s troubles to pass. Then science will accomplish what the Gospel only promised: eternal life.
A presentation by members of what is called the Convergence stands on its own as a meditation on the role of death in human life. The questions posed, deeply philosophical, intrigue and frighten.
The story’s premise raises a Gospel question: Why must the path to life, life in the Lord, pass through death?
It’s as if God gave with one hand and took with the other. The deepest desire of the heart is to live and to love. The heart detests death, insists that it is disordered, something that should not be. Why does Christ promise resurrection, but only at the cost of Calvary?
Truth is, we don’t know. All lives climb Mount Calvary. Either the promise of resurrection is true, or we die deluded. The Gospel question, the question of faith, is whether we can live our lives and approach our deaths, believing that Christ has conquered death, that, in the words of our prayer, “for your faithful, Lord, life is changed not ended.”
I am no longer a boy, though I am still working on what it means to be a man. No longer a child, I don’t chide my father for lack of courage, for not being more adventuresome. Now I find myself wondering how he did what he did. How did he embrace life’s demands in a way that made him ready for death? How can I, his son, do the same? To live Calvary never doubting Easter: that’s the devotion of a disciple. And a Christian father has nothing more important to teach his children.
Zechariah 12: 10-11, 13:1 Galatians 3: 26-29 Luke 9: 18-24