More happy

My Chief Christchurch Correspondent (that would be Christchurch, New Zealand, where they get earthquakes the way we get snow) writes:

“Maybe I’m a pessimist — would like to earn the tag ‘realist’ but I see things being resolved by a repeat of twentieth century violence to the power of ten combined with famine and a pandemic. Out of that will rise the Church purified by the new saints.”

Au contraire, I find that pretty optimistic. It ends well, which makes it a Comedy, as I’ve been teaching my seminarians.

Certain readers, enmired perhaps in their earthly concerns, might dispute this jargon. War, Famine, Pestilence, Death — and other things of that kidney — have never enjoyed a good press down here. In a way, I understand it. I flinched myself this morning, merely because the hot water ran out while I was showering. Though I must say, I did not find the experience “unthinkable.” Within seconds, the phenomenon made perfect sense to me. Even my own death, from any number of causes, unlikely to include a cold shower, is comprehensible. We were all born with the ability to catch on.

I got in trouble once for saying something like, “Nuclear war would be a bad thing, but it is not the worst thing we can imagine.” I’d added that going to Hell would be worse, but the journalist who quoted me left that part out.

Stalin had some things right. In the event, I had also quoted his old chestnut that, “Nuclear weapons are only a problem for people with bad nerves.”

I was thinking of him this morning because I dreamt of him last night. I had gone to interview him, and was surprised to find him still in charge of Russia. He was surrounded by these big tough greatcoated gentlemen, in his inner sanctum, but was himself easy-going and fairly charming, in his silk pajamas, cross-legged on an Oriental dragon throne. In this dream, there was a kerfuffle with the outer office, where several American stenographic ladies were yammering. They were telling us we weren’t allowed to smoke in there, and so Stalin and his “boys” fell into confusion, wondering where we could go with our cigarettes.

Now, this would be a Tragedy, by the classical definition: it didn’t end well.

War, famine, pestilence, death. Hope I’ve got those right, I fear one of them was conquest, implying rapine. But only four horses. “Whatever,” as we say.

The modern man has lost track of an important comforting thought, with respect to his life in this world. It is that you can only die once. Prolonged and painful as the whole scene might be, the fear of death itself should not be exaggerated. Statistics can’t “improve” it. And as my little sister once explained, “If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow afternoon, you could be philosophical about it. After all, you can still do things in the morning.”

We mustn’t get over-excited about death. It’s just a phase we go through. It’s the going to Hell that would be the real problem.