In the Bleak Midwinter
Behold a little child, a boy. He has only a few words yet, but within the wondrous dome of his head, tousled with a wisp of wild hair, a whole world is coming into being. Sometimes he regards things with a settled seriousness, as if he were a metaphysical scholar, batting a toy swing back and forth, investigating the principles of motion. Sometimes he crouches down to the earth to make finger-marks in the soil. Sometimes he gazes into the eyes of a stranger, and breaks into a smile, the two teeth on the bottom making him look a little like a rakish old man who has just downed a swig of cider.
If we knew, in advance, that the child would “amount to nothing,” as we say in our ruthlessness—that he would be the first dumped overboard in the surreality television show of modern life, the first sent packing with his half a talent—indeed, if we knew he would die before the age of reason, should that not make him all the more precious in our eyes? The good of the child is beyond quantity; it is like the good of love, and beauty.
Do we understand that? I don’t know. A hedonistic world is, at base, cruel, pitiless. That is because sensual pleasure can be calibrated. It raises the horrible questions, “How much?” and “How many?” Egotistical pleasure, for which many of us, worshiping a Higher Hedonism, sacrifice the sensual, can also be measured. Larry is the youngest partner in Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe. Linda has two Master’s degrees in Personnel Management. In such a world the child may be a “lifestyle accessory,” to use the inhuman patois, but is otherwise an embarrassment to be managed, or an irrelevance.
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Anthony Esolen is a professor at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts in Warner, New Hampshire, and the author of many books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (anthonyesolen.substack.com), on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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