Hector, our frequent commenter, has an extraordinary blog post up in which he reflects on the death a year ago from a drug overdose of his friend “Dave,” and what he saw when he traveled to Nebraska to visit with Dave’s messy working-class family. Excerpt:
One of the really interesting thing I remember from that funeral weekend is that it reminded me that what we hear from the conservative writers like Charles Murray, is in large part true. Family dynamics in America are rapidly changing, and today they’re changing rapidly in the working-class, particularly in Red states (i.e. the South and the Great Plains states like Nebraska). You wouldn’t have seen this kind of ‘blended’ family in the past. But what we often don’t think about is this: that while family instability and breakdown are often undesirable things that make people’s lives a lot harder, they also provide people with the opportunity to be, in a small way, heroic, and to freely undertake choices, out of love, that are more difficult and more demanding than most people make who have never faced equivalent challenges. As with other challenges and sources of adversity in life, a great many people in working-class America have responded by making extraordinary sacrifices out of love. Dave’s mother’s second husband chose to do so, when he adopted Dave and gave him his name. Dave’s mother also chose to do so, when she effectively adopted “Lena” and rescued her from a neglectful mother. One of the young women I met at the funeral had two young children, whom she was raising alone (their father had long since split): she’d been living in St. Louis, but had moved back to care for her dying father, who lived out in a small Great Plains town, which was rapidly losing people and hollowing out. She had become part of a small number of people, like Rod Dreher, bucking the tide and moving back to her small town roots, at substantial personal sacrifice, because of people she cared about.
We all know the overall shape of the trends, the economic abyss and the decline of farming and factory jobs, coupled with the fraying of social bonds and the weakening of the family, that are making the lives of working class people in the developed world harder and harder. Particularly here. But among those trends, it’s easy to lose track of the fact that the overall scope of history is made up of the free choices, for good and evil, of many millions of people. And each of those stories is, very often, a fascinating drama in and of itself, with episodes of tragedy as well as heroism and exceptional virtue.
What a great perspective: seeing adversity and brokenness as a call to, and an opportunity for, moral greatness. Failure is not the end of a story; it can be just the beginning. Hector’s post made me think of my sister Ruthie’s story, which is not the same thing as Dave’s, obviously, but related. Dying from cancer meant the end of her life, but it is not the end of her story, and I think (I hope!) that the way she, and those who loved her, responded to her great adversity, and the chance I had to write about what these people said and did, will result in many, many people that Ruthie never had the chance to know making decisions that will change their own lives for the better.