One of the more tiresome features of the New York Times Op-Ed pages is those days when its house conservatives, David Brooks and Ross Douthat, play moralist. Although there are differences between the two in age and religion, they both share a disquieting tendency to extol the virtues of sacrifice without ever conveying the depth of what they ask. In their world, people should stay in marriages that make them unhappy, give birth to children that they feel they cannot raise, and endure lives that are bereft of hope or pleasure. Never is there a sense conveyed of the true meaning of such sacrifice, of the fact that our lives are quite finite, and that there is often a kind of permanence in these sacrifices, that happiness foregone is frequently lost for good.
This is not to argue against a sense of duty in life and of an understanding that there are things bigger than ourselves in the universe. However, I'd like to see people like Brooks and Douthat actually acknowledge the weight of sacrifice and what it means and how sometimes it taxes people beyond endurance.
Today Brooks scolds Charles Darwin Snelling, an 81-year old man who killed his wife, who had suffered for years with Alzheimer's disease, and then committed suicide. This same man had written an uplifting essay for Brooks about the redemptive nature of having spent the last six years of his sixty-one year marriage caring for his wife as she slipped away from him. Four months after the essay was published, Snelling committed the murder/suicide. Brooks is offended that Snelling failed to "respect the future" (and, one senses, annoyed that one of his star essay writers failed to live up to his uplifting words). I guess it doesn't occur to Brooks that perhaps Snelling saw the future all too clearly and that it led to a cul de sac of harrowing decline, death, and aloneness. I wouldn't presume to speak for Snelling, but I can certainly imagine that he might well have felt unending pain and exhaustion, that his struggle of so many years may have seemed futile, that the disappearance of his companion of six decades, even as her heart still beat, was unbearable.
When I was reading this sad tale, I was reminded of this passage from one of Camus' Notebooks: "One must love life before loving its meaning Dostoevsky said. Yes, and when the love of life disappears, no meaning consoles us for it."
It is perhaps unfair to expect profundity in daily newspaper columns (or blog posts for that matter). But it seems to me that if one is going to venture into territory like this, one should possess a tad more gravitas than does Mr. Brooks.