The Carriage Driver 4 Philip Roth
The Carriage Driver had prepared Nuelle and the carriage for a journey. Things had been very slow as the roving ambassador for heaven. They made their way down a tree lined avenue at a cozy pace. Griffin spotted an agitated man several yards ahead.
About that time the man looked up. “Oh, no. Look, ah, listen; I have seven doors in my mind. I know this door exists, but have spent my whole life, keeping away from it. No one knows what is behind that door. No one. Sure, there are many who claim to know. They claim to know the rules and take great pleasure in explaining those rules.”
He took a few steps ahead. Nuelle just kept the easy pace, not setting off any alarms.
“Now fear, that door, I know quite a bit about. As a writer, I have spent many hours there. There is more fear in the world than any other emotion. My generation fought off the fear of breaking the traditions of our parents. Many from the old country. They were set in their ways. They feared hunger and persecution. They feared that their children would walk away from the faith they carried like stones. Imagine carrying your faith as a burden.”
Nuelle took a step, bringing Griffin up alongside the brooding man.
“As a young man, I feared being able to find my place in the world. A new generation took to the streets to oppose the status quo. The sixties and early seventies were a time of both fear and frustration. Parents turned on their children. Children abandoned their parents' ways. I witnessed a generation that through strife and turmoil changed the course of a nation.”
He grabbed both sides of his head. “As a writer my head was bursting with ideas. Ideas about who I was, or am and ideas about the country. It got to a point that I named my alter ego, and put him on paper; I lived the life I wanted through him. And through him, I was able to make my way in the world, always seeking a higher persona of myself. I asked myself question after question about what life is, and then spent my writing career exploring those questions. I had to invent someone, to become myself.”
Nuelle stopped. She looked at the man talking to them, but mostly to himself. She looked at this man, who was as unsure at the end of his life, as he was at the beginning. There was an essence to him. A humanity, a sadness. She could sense the turbulence churning inside him.
“Writing is a solitary profession. Many hours are spent sifting down through your thoughts. We are observers of life. We dissect and inspect the many facets that present themselves. When the big questions are presented, we don’t have a quick answer. We discovered that there are no quick solutions. There is research to be done. We are always digging, looking for facts that support our positions. Mostly we fear that our energy and creativeness will extinguish. We fear that our fires will go out, that our voices will not be heard, or worse, that our voices will be ignored. We fear having nothing to say.”
His deep eyes looked directly at Griffin, seeing him, looking for recognition of any kind. “My work was studied. It was dissected like a bug. One published work unleashed a backlash. My work became a feeding frenzy for the literary critics. I took my responsibility seriously. With a hatchet in each hand, I hacked away at the vines from the ancients that pinned our minds to outdated thoughts.” He paused. “What was I talking about? Oh, fear.”
Griffin stepped down and walked to Nuelle. He took an apple from his pocket and cut it into four pieces. Nuelle and Griffin ate their apple as the man continued to talk.
“Sexual mores were open fodder for my writing. As time went by, you could see the sexual mores being broken down. America’s youth was freed from the advice or constraints of their elders. A revolution was afoot. What did that fellow say? ‘There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.’ No one ever said it better than that.”
Griffin and Nuelle quietly observed.
“Being a college professor, offered first hand observations of the changing values taking hold all across America. My fictional palate offered free rein to my characters. The lust and sexual explorations of the youth of the nation spread across the pages of my novels. Their heroes had changed. The guidelines set out by their parents and their grandparents were thrown out the window. Unlike the postwar generation who survived and carried their fear with them, the young fled from the past. My novels are a chronicle of this wayward generation.”
He paused and looked at Griffin and Nuelle. Yes, indeed he thought. I stayed away from this door. This door is too frightening. This door labeled religion is too dark and foreboding. How can anything be behind that door? All the stepping stones along this pathway are stained with the superstitions of mankind, translated and set forth as the word from beyond. Language pontificated again and again to anyone who would listen. Finally, he said, “There is a conflict of ideas. Man searches for meaning in his life. We travel alone through a desert of ideas. Our feet try to grip the shifting sands beneath them. Our footing is unsure. We squint our eyes to the blinding sun. We labor to quench our thirst in a wasteland of our own making.” His voice lowered, “Is any of this making any sense?” Words spoken to himself. “I spent a lifetime mingling with literary intellectuals, at cocktail parties with academic wannabes, and dedicated myself to isolation where I practiced my art. I searched for literary heroes among my contemporaries. Most of all I had my say.”
Griffin looked at the man and said, “Your name is in the book. We are here to take you anywhere you want to go. But why do I have the feeling you are not going to climb aboard?”
Nuelle turned her head and looked back at the man standing there.
“That is a nice invitation. Perhaps the nicest invitation that I ever had. You are right. At this point I would be a hypocrite if I climbed into that carriage. I have seven doors in my mind. I thoroughly explored only one. The door you offer scares me. It is the door of my father’s world. I cannot claim it for my own.” He paused, “So, you are The Carriage Driver.” He smiled and walked away.
Griffin climbed aboard. He pushed his hat back on his head as Nuelle pulled the carriage back into the lane. She followed the man for half a mile hoping he could overcome his fear and change his mind.
March 19, 1933 – May 22, 2018
Philip Roth, author of thirty books, many short stories and winner of stacks of literary awards, passed at age eighty-five. He resided at the center of American literature for decades. His work drew thunderous criticism. He was noted for sharp intelligence and biting humor. His writing is unconventional and probing, daring and prodding. His work entertained, enlightened and engaged his readers. He loved too much, and could not love enough. Through it all he wrote. He was a storyteller.
Philip Roth was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for his American Pastoral, (Houghton Mifflin) taking his place beside his friend Saul Bellows and his contemporary John Updike.
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