One of my friends, Sarah, recommended that today I drink a very special beer that she brews occasionally, the Flannery Pecan Pie, to commemorate the anniversary of Flannery O’Connor‘s death. The beer is named after O’Connor, who lived relatively close to me (by relative I mean in the same state).
So I did.
I’m a fan of the beer, and a fan of O’Connor, though perhaps not for the reasons you might think. I mean, for the beer, yes, because it’s tasty, but O’Connor — I appreciate her stories, but I don’t love them.
I’ve taught her stories for years, decades, actually, but I’ve never really enjoyed it. Not like I’ve enjoyed teaching other things. It seems that “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” is in every anthology I’ve ever used, and so it goes that I assign it.
And then the fun begins. By fun I mean anxiety. Some of the language and situations makes my students uncomfortable, which in turn makes me uncomfortable. Am I a victim of political correctness? Not in this instance. I just know my audience, and I choose my topics seriously. I’ll teach it a term, just to see and test the waters, and usually, I’m left feeling like I pushed some buttons for no good reason.
O’Connor gives me insight into this phenomenon
All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.
This is why I’m a fan of hers, and why it makes it difficult to teach. Too often, I encounter students whose lives are hard, hopeless, and brutal. To bring fiction into the picture seems to add salt to their wounds. After all, we are all fighting our own demons.
Her observation on the situation rings so terribly true today:
At its best our age is an age of searchers and discoverers, and at its worst, an age that has domesticated despair and learned to live with it happily.
My task, to expose these things, discuss them, deconstruct them, and try to wrench hope out of them…usually ends in…not what I hoped for. I strive to take the despair and channel it into something else, something positive. It’s hit or miss.
But it’s time to teach it again. We live in perilous times. I don’t spare my students anything by not helping them face the indignity of the assaults against us, whether it’s from language intended to demean, or some of the terrifying assaults against our faith.
The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.