Home/Rod Dreher/Ten Years, 2010-2020

Ten Years, 2010-2020

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I answered one of those Twitter things going around:

I thought, “Whoa, other than the family deaths, that’s pretty great!” So why doesn’t it feel all that great? Then I answered it a second time:

A lot more happened to me in this decade than I could put in two tweets, but you get the idea.

The thing is, I can’t separate the good things that happened to me from the bad things. The hinge is the deaths of my sister and father, which were awful things (especially my sister, who died young, and in pain), but which opened some doors for me that I never thought would open.

But the opening of that door was very far from unambiguously good, as readers of my books know. I guess what shakes me up looking at these two lists is that if you had told me in November 2009 that within a decade, I would have written two NYT bestsellers, been profiled by the New Yorker, and the rest of it, I would have thought I’d hit the lottery. It must look like that to a lot of people on the outside. It’s important to remember, though, that the book that really launched my book-writing career was one about the untimely death of my poor sister. Nothing good that could possibly have happened to me could compensate for that loss. I would trade all that success for her life without a millisecond’s thought.

With the success has come a lot of pain — I talked in How Dante about the family secrets that came to light, and how crushed I was by discovering the truth, but also how God brought good out of it. Still, it will surprise readers who are used to my confessional, TMI style to learn that there are things I don’t write about, and won’t ever write about. There are things that I carry every single day; they’re the first things I think of when I wake up in the morning, the last things I think about as I’m falling asleep, and are never, ever far from the front of my mind. I have resigned myself to accepting that this is a pain I will always have to carry. My task is to figure out where God is in all this.

When I was in Russia recently, I interviewed a number of survivors of the gulag, or otherwise witnesses to religious persecution in the Soviet Union. It was hard going, but also a blessing, to see the resilience of the human spirit. One of my interview subjects spoke with such intimacy and eloquence about having to fight through the pain to find God’s will in it — and succeeding, though at a terrible cost.

I was so moved by the particulars of what he said that I very nearly cried. I blurted out something to him that I wish I hadn’t done. I told him of a special burden that I carry, and said it cannot be compared to what he endured under the Soviets, but that his words about staying faithful through persecution had personal resonance to me.

He looked at me, and said quietly, “I know what you mean. I’m going through the same thing now.”

And then he told me something else that had happened to him, and that he’s carrying in his heart. I nearly fell away.

Since that conversation, he has stayed on my mind. I’ve been praying for him. I hope he has been praying for me. One big lesson I’ve learned over the last decade is how impossible it is to escape suffering. Watching my healthy, never-smoking sister die of lung cancer at 42, leaving a husband and three kids — that wasn’t supposed to happen. But it did. Actually, a lot of things that weren’t supposed to happen, happened.

The contingency of life — that has been the greatest lesson for me of the past decade. We have far less control over events than we think we do. It’s humiliating. And that stupid REM song is true: everybody hurts. I need to remember that more often. I also need to remember the truth in these stanzas of this great W.H. Auden poem:

‘O look, look in the mirror,
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

‘O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.’

What are the highlights of what happened to you over this past decade? What have you learned? Let’s have a thread.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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