Last night I finished reading The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It is in an interesting read. You have to be a fan of the way he writes to appreciate the style, and sometimes the story. There isn't a lot of punctuation, cant is spelled without the apostrophe throughout the entire book. None of the dialogue has a single set of quotation marks, and he writes in incoherent incomplete sentences a lot. He also wrote All the Pretty Horses and No Country for Old Men. All the Pretty Horses - great, No Country for Old Men - I hated it!
The Road was made into a movie in 2009 starring Viggo Mortensen as the main character, basically the only adult character. The pretense of the story (spoiler alert) is that the entire novel takes place while traveling down a road, any state road, from the north to the south because they (he and his young son) can not survive another northern winter. There are no other people with them, they travel alone and hide from others when they see them. They pillage and steal from homes and cars they find in order to survive, sleep under a tarp, and eat from cans of beans they've managed to gain throughout their travels. The biggest treat he finds for his child is an old Coke and a package of grape drink flavoring - he tells him to cherish these things because he'll probably never have them again. The timing is after the Apocalypse of some sort and/or Armageddon. I had a hard time placing the story on a sequence of events because according to Revelations, the Apocalypse happens and then there should be 1,000 years of peace where Christ returns to the be the King. Right - am I wrong here? Then Satan is set free on humanity once more, war ensues and destruction occurs. This must be after Satan is set free again. They refer to God a lot, calling out to him, praying to him, saying he's the only thing that matters. It is certainly not the 1,000 years of peace or the millennium where a new world is created. It is bad. So very bad.
War has definitely ensued and people are starving and dying, killing each other just to survive. It reminds me a lot of how I pictured those escaping The Holocaust, gaunt and malnutritioned living by faith alone. The earth is mostly on fire and it fills the world with ashes, hot molten ashes that cling and stick to the ground, the trees, their faces. They find many dead bodies, burned alive and decayed beyond belief. They meet good guys and bad guys and the father spends much of the novel promising his son they are the good guys, even when he shoots another man in head splattering his brains all over the face of his son:
We are the still the good guys.
I had to kill him.
I'll kill anyone that touches you.
In end, the father dies and the boy meets a a man that is willing to take him in to his family. I'm not sure how the movie plays all of this out, but this is the way the book reads. Travel, travel, war, destruction, death, travel, travel, death, redemption; but only for the child. Which I find interesting because Jesus Christ said "suffer the little children unto me" (Matthew 19:14). If this is during Satan's reign, is the redemption a sign of new beginnings? We never know what happens to the little boy when he goes with the new family, only that another adult, a parent with two children of his own, takes him into his home and we hope, loves him like he is his own child. Adoption. The art of loving another as your own flesh and blood at its finest; at least that's what I choose to believe.
I kept reading the novel because I wanted to believe that things would turn out o.k. for the man and his son. They were all each other had in a world where nothing was safe, nothing was sound. The love and compassion he shows his son after the mother kills herself and leaves them to die is amazing. The reader is lead to believe the father has pneumonia or tuberculosis because he consistently coughs up blood, but he always hides this from his son never wanting him to know he is sick. It is unbelievable what we will hide from our children to protect them. The reader is lead to believe that the father will save his life, or die trying; which he does. It is unbelivable what lengths we'll attempt to save our children's lives. The reader, while sometimes wondering just what is on the road out there, is drawn in to a heart-breaking story about what it really means to be a parent. It in unbelievable, just being a parent. From the first page to the end, I found myself reaching out to my own child to hug him, to kiss him, to love him.
And that's what this post is really about, not just a book, but what the book makes you feel. Cormac McCarthy made me examine how I protect my own son in a world that is sometimes not all too different from the one in the novel. We meet dangers and strangers everyday, never sure if they are the good guy or the bad guy. Just yesterday in Subway I made my son stand literally touching me while I ordered because we weren't in our home town and the idea that I was surrounded by bad people crept into my mind. We probably weren't but the instinctive nature to protect your child is unstoppable.
It wasn't until I had a son that I finally understood the way my parents worried about me, worried about my brother, and most of all, loved us. It wasn't until I had a son that I understood my mother-in-law's reservations about me taking her boy "away" from her until I looked into the eyes of my own little man knowing full well NO ONE will ever love him like I do.
Being a parent is the best and the hardest thing a person can and will ever do. It baffles me when I meet children with parents that don't care. They are out there and WAY too many of them. I don't understand how they've been able to break the bond with their child. I understand those that give their children up for adoption to create a better life for them, the amount of love that takes is amazing, but those that just stop loving their kids - how could you? All too often I meet children that believe their parents don't love them. And sometimes, I think they may be right. I was angry with my parents in high school, questioned their choices, and yelled at them from time to time much to my own chagrin now, but I knew they loved me. I never doubted that they loved me and I pray my own son knows and understands my devotion to him.
I love my child more than anything in this world, and there isn't anything I wouldn't do to protect him. There's an old adage that says the most dangerous place to be is inbetween a mother and her child; this is so very true. The instincts that well up in me in the most mundance situations often take me back because of what I know I'd be willing to do to save him. I know my husband feels the same way when it comes to our boy, the love of a parent does not belong solely to the mother. This, too, floors me every time I meet a worthless dead-beat dad...really, we ought to stick them all on a island together and let them rot it out. I realize that it is a terrible thing to say, but let's call a spade a spade.
And that's what The Road did for me. It made me stop and think about how much I truly love my son, how far I'd be willing to go to save his life, how much I would absolutely endure to make sure he survived, was o.k., was happy. And it was nice to stop and think about it rather than it just being the instinct I feel in my heart. Nice to let those emotions overwhelm me and weep for the sheer joy of being a parent. Nice to hug him close to me while he slept last night knowing there is no greater love on this earth than that of a parent to a child. Nice to know I am capable of such a great love, the same love my parents have for me. Nice to understand where they've been coming from all these years. It was simply put, nice.
I don't know if those that don't have children would feel this same response to the book. For me, it wasn't a novel about survival in a hard cruel world, it was a novel about being a parent and allowing the one emotion that transcends all others to take center stage: love.
I will most likely never see the movie. I find Hollywood often taints the power of written emotion with spoken words and destroys the sweet drift of text off the page into my mind and my heart as books do.
I love being a parent, I love my son, and I love that I have been given the chance by God to feel this way. How blessed I am that he chose me for my child, for my child is of course, the best (I may be a bit partial). As you venture into your day of being a parent, hug your child a little tighter, do something special for him or her, cherish their youth, and laugh with them until you feel it in your soul. For as we all know, The Road will come to an end long before we want be it the loss of innocence and a childish gaze, the ascent into adulthood through the rocky teenage years when they don't want to hold our hands anymore, or God believes it's time for them to become an angel before us, our time as a parent is precious. Knowing this now makes it better, makes it so great that I feel my heart might burst. Knowing it now makes The Road all the more bearable because I get to travel it with my son and he is all that I am, my heart outside my chest. And I am the lucky one, because I know.