(Delivered at UUSF on September 22, 2019. See a video here)
In Unitarian Universalism, we count earth centered traditions as one of our sources and we believe in the interconnected web of existence, so there is no shortage of nature-focused literature out there, whether it's Thoreau, Whitman, or the wilderness book that Vanessa spoke about a few weeks ago. These books remind us how lucky we are, how much there is to live for, how much abundance there is in this world even if we are conditioned to think about scarcity.
But what if that were all gone? That's the premise of The Road by Cormac McCarthy. After a nuclear winter, the abundance is gone. No more beautiful sunrises. There isn't enough light for most plants to grow. Most of the animals have died. No more good food. No recreational hikes. No orderly civilization. And there is little hope of a better tomorrow. The world is, quite literally, a cold place. In that situation, is there any meaning to life, or should we just give up?
There's an early 20th century quote in design circles that "perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away." Or, going even further back, there is a Jewish song called Dayenu, which means "it would have been enough." The song goes through the many miracles that the Jewish people have experienced -- becoming free from Egypt, surviving the journey to Israel, receiving the Torah, and many others. And after each miracle, the refrain is "dayenu." Even if we didn't have that miracle, it would have been enough.
In The Road, Cormac McCarthy takes away miracle after miracle after miracle and asks, "Is this enough? Is there still meaning?" We can't say that life is meaningful for all that there is to experience because experiences are uniform and bleak. We can't say that life is meaningful for joy. For hope of tomorrow. For some idealistic goal of fixing the world or unraveling a great mystery. The Road takes away all of that. And when we take it all away, when we lose all of the trite, cliche answers for why to get up in the morning and keep on fighting, what is left?
In the book, the answer is one single relationship. A father and a son walking south along a broken road in a bleak landscape. Together. And even with all the pain, even when you know it will be just as bad tomorrow, even when there is nothing you can do, even when everything has been taken away until there is no longer anything to take away -- day-dayenu, day-dayenu, day-dayenu, dayenu, dayenu -- even then, it is still enough.