Sleep is actually a relief from the modern affectations requiring that grief be widely advertised for a few days and thereafter confined to a therapist, whose hourly rate, resplendent jargon, and credentialed walls comfort modern man in the belief that his sorrow is managed with the clinical expertise of a Professional — a high priest of our secular age.
Perhaps it signifies lost innocence that I see new shades in the New York skyline. When I lived with Christopher last summer, I would go for runs around the reservoir in Central Park after work, as he would bike around the outer loops, and I thrilled to watch the sun set, as the buildings that hugged the park’s contours would go on humming with life and bright orange light into the night — what glamour, so different from my childhood. Now, I run that same, remindful loop and the pale reds of the skyscrapers are menacing and hateful, as they detain professionals from their families so late — what vanity, so different from my childhood. And the greatest city in the world is polluted as the city that killed my brother.
One of the old Buckley stories passed around the National Review office is about the letter an admiring boy sent Bill, requesting advice for growing up. The preeminent sesquipedalian replied, “Don’t.” I forward his advice to Yale seniors contemplating graduation from college, which, for good and bad, is extended childhood. Children think they want to grow up, but once we do we all want childhood back. Young couples, as soon as they are comfortable, begin babying each other again. And then they get to the business of laying aside their own lives to make new childhoods, to be enjoyed vicariously.
(My adventure into adult life, I should say, has made me an observer of politics. Politics is the depressing combination of the particular vices of childhood and adulthood each, the retention of neither’s virtues. Avoid it.)
After deaths, people become less political and more religious. Some attribute our invention of heaven to weak selfishness. There’s some truth there. (Who wouldn’t be weakened by death in the family?) But belief in heaven can’t be entirely selfish. We invented hell, too, because we would take the heat if we could be with family again. Religious hope — displaced in the modern world by the faith in youth reclaimed in plastic surgery and 30 years of well-pensioned retirement — is the hope that the world of commutes and “professionalism” and taxes and networking is only an interruption to childhood, and that we will be like children again and tumble and hide in the garden under the old pine tree on the hill, and parents will come home from work at dusk to find their nice little pile of kids still whole.
There is enough mystery still — for me, Christopher’s promising smile in that uncanny dream — for us to hope for second childhood.
– Mr. Shaffer is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute. A version of this piece appeared in the Yale Daily News, after graduated former columnists were asked to write about their lives “newly beyond the gates of Yale.”