Thursday, January 31, 2013

This is the Last of Earth

Quincy sat in a rickety chair in a corner of a library.  The books surrounding him belonged to a friend, but he imagined that they were his father’s.
He had long since left the presidency behind him, but those were days that still haunted the old man.  He was sitting in the library mostly because he did not want to report back to the House of Representatives.  His colleagues were debating whether to honor veterans of the Mexican-American War.  This was something he vehemently opposed.  If he went back now, he was concerned that he might do something he regretted.  Or worse.
All his life he had known nothing but the great cause of the budding nation.  He could appreciate that many others could say the same, but few in quite the way he had.  In many days like this one, he had shared his father’s misery.  In many ways, he had become his father.
It was not an easy life.  His bones ached constantly, not from advanced age but from the constant strain, from the constant opposition.  So many wanted the same thing, but could not agree on how to obtain it.  Sometimes he wondered if they knew what they wanted, if they knew the peril they placed their future in by refusing to comprehend the events taking shape around them.  He saw a war on the horizon.
He had lived through two monumental wars already.  He did not consider the Mexican-American War legitimate, but he did the War of 1812, which had catapulted Old Hickory to the presidency.  He had experienced the Revolutionary War firsthand.  Younger people these days could not appreciate what that had been like, how desperate those days were.
His father used to ride a circuit around New England as a country lawyer, and then around Europe as an ambassador.  They were equally thankless pursuits.  How had he ended up the same way?  Somehow he attempted to master history, yet was doomed to repeat it.  Was that the truth of human nature, that there was no escaping the mistakes you choose to embrace?
He put his hands on a book and then hesitated, thought about another book, and then could not bring himself to open either one.  He knew them both already.  What did he expect to find in them?  Courage?  He was too old for courage.  All he had left was conviction.  It was no longer enough.  He felt his body giving way, betraying him.  It was bound to happen.  That was the story of his life.  There was no certainty for him.
He had always done what he thought best for the country, what he hoped would help it endure, survive even the wars he didn’t agree with.  This matter of the veterans vexed him.  He knew veterans of other wars.  Perhaps it was because he had not fought any campaigns himself.  Perhaps it was shame.  Perhaps humiliation.
He tried to get up and for a moment could not feel his legs.  He immediately collapsed, fell back into the chair, and it cracked audibly.  He believed with absolute conviction that he would soon sprawl on the floor, which had not been dusted in months.  He thought about the suit that would be ruined, how he could not report back to his colleagues in that condition.  Even if he could get up.  What could he possibly say for himself?
Then he tried again, after the split second’s doubt, and got all the way onto his feet.  He breathed a sigh of relief.

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