Good Friday Morning, especially to the first place in the AFC Tennessee Titans! I can’t believe they pulled it off, but I’m enjoying this ride quite a bit. The last time I experienced a ride in the driver’s seat of the AFC was in 2008, and I was in college. I get to kick my feet up and enjoy Super Wild Card weekend. I have to admit a certain level of satisfaction, too, at watching the Colts and Ravens lose and fall out of the playoffs.
This week I’m taking a different direction. I initially thought I’d be writing about the OSHA mandate cases out of the Supreme Court. But that may get pushed to the podcast this week. Thursday afternoon, I learned the sad news that Terry Teachout, culture and theater writer at the Wall Street Journal and Commentary Magazine, unexpectedly passed away in his sleep at 65. He was an incredible writer and thinker, and his death, along with many others, had me thinking through some things—links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
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Biden enters 2022 with new polling lows and fresh failures – Conservative Institute
Biden’s energy policy weakens American power – Conservative Institute
Terry Teachout and a life well-lived and full of true love.
It seems like we’ve experienced a lot of notable deaths lately — or maybe it’s just me. It started towards the end of December with names like Desmond Tutu, John Madden, and Harry Reid. Betty White capped off the end of 2021. Joan Diodon and Anne Rice’s deaths occurred in that time frame too. 2022 has added names like Bob Saget and Sidney Poiter. The one that has impacted me the most is the loss of Terry Teachout, the theater, movie, and cultural critic for the Wall Street Journal and Commentary Magazine, among other places.
Teachout wrote a lot about the theater, movies, art, and other things in culture. But what made Teachout different, aside from being incredibly nice and effusive in his praise of others, was his specific life experiences. One of the things he wrote about was his relationship with his late wife, Hilary. The two of them met late in life. Teachout was 49 at the time and wrote of her and that time:
Hilary Dyson Teachout, the “Mrs. T” of this blog, suffered throughout the decade and a half of our life together from pulmonary hypertension, a rare and devastating illness that gnawed inexorably at her body without touching her soul. She was smart, funny, generous, and gallant, a perfect companion and the love of my life. Indeed, we fell in love at first sight, a thing I had never thought possible until, at the improbable age of forty-nine, it happened to me, followed in the shortest order that I could manage by a middle age full of shared joy. Alas, Hilary lacked the strength to survive the double-lung transplant that we had hoped would give her more life, and now she is gone.
Loss is the price of love: I knew from the start that I was likely to lose her too soon, though I was lucky beyond belief to have her for far longer than her doctors foresaw. But merely to know such a thing cannot begin to ready us for its coming. Raymond Aron said it: “There is no apprenticeship to misfortune. When it strikes us, we still have everything to learn.” I shall now try to learn the lesson of misfortune in a manner as worthy as possible of my beloved Hilary, who faced death as she faced life, with indomitable courage.
His last paragraph is one of the poignant passages on loss and what love means. To enter a relationship, a marriage no less, knowing the worst was likely around the corner. However, to still enter it knowing full well, you’ll never be prepared for it. There’s a beauty in that which transcends all things. We try to capture it through various art mediums, but the only way to understand it is to walk it.
That occurred towards the beginning of 2020, and he wrote about going from that grief into lockdown over the pandemic. One of the last things he wrote on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2021, was this:
Hilary and I used to spend two or three weeks each winter on Florida’s Sanibel Island, our favorite place in the world. Alas, her deteriorating health caught up with her at last, and the doctors made her stop going there in 2016. It was always our plan to return as soon as she recovered from her double lung transplant. Instead, I lost Hilary and went straight from her deathbed into lockdown, after which I spent a painful year and a half learning to cope with that which I had most feared.
Then, six months ago, Cheril Mulligan and I fell in love, and though I’ll always miss Hilary, my life is once again full and joyous. One of these days I’ll take Cheril down to Sanibel—I know she’ll love it—but for now I’m more than content to live in the present and revel in the return of good fortune to my once-charmed, twice-blessed life.
I don’t need to know what’s to come next, which is a blessing, since it’s not given to any of us to know that. The only thing I know is that more surprises await me in 2022. Such being the case, allow me to quote Ogden Nash, as is my longstanding custom on the last day of the year:
Come, children, gather round my knee;
Something is about to be.
Tonight’s December Thirty-First,
Something is about to burst.
The clock is crouching, dark and small,
Like a time bomb in the hall.
Hark! It’s midnight, children dear.
Duck! Here comes another year.
It’s a special thing to experience great love and grief and enter that knowing you’ll experience both and still do it. Most people don’t consider that. But when you knowingly fall in love with a person fighting severe illness, those are the risks. In his death, he experienced the opposite too — he died, unexpectedly, having just met a new love.
The obvious question here is: if you know the likely end, do you still do the same thing?
I love a movie that explores a similar theme: Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. The movie’s plot centers around the arrival of aliens to earth and our attempts to communicate with this new race of aliens. In the process of the film, it jumps between flashbacks and, as you come to learn, flash-forwards. The method of learning this new alien language allows you to experience time all at once.
In the film, you learn that Louise Banks, played by Adams, lost her only child, a daughter, to an incurable, terminal disease. At the beginning of the film, you’re led to believe this occurred in the past before aliens arrived.
But the twist is that it’s the opposite. Because it allows you to experience time, including the future, the alien language enables Adams to experience future events. She encounters the end of her daughter’s life and all the events leading up to it. She falls in love with a man she meets while learning the alien language. They eventually have a child.
And the catch of the film is this: if you have the vantage point of Louis Banks, where you can stand on the edge of time and experience everything, would you make the same choices? Would you still fall in love and purposely go through with having a child you knew would die young and tragic? At some point, she tells her husband what will happen and how she knows. That knowledge rips their marriage apart.
Banks even asks at one point, “If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?”
Banks concludes at the end of the film, “Despite knowing the journey… and where it leads… I embrace it… and I welcome every moment of it.”
Teachout described something similar above, “Loss is the price of love: I knew from the start that I was likely to lose her too soon, though I was lucky beyond belief to have her for far longer than her doctors foresaw. But merely to know such a thing cannot begin to ready us for its coming.”
Because even with perfect knowledge, even though we may know the end, it’s still impossible to train or prepare for that moment. To experience that is the only way to see the love, the beauty, the art, and more. To live in fear of it is to deny oneself the opportunity to know the full scope of life.
When we walk into an art gallery and observe a painting, we see a moment, visual landscape, or idea from an artist captured on canvas. It’s an attempt to evoke those emotional times, raise the specter of beauty itself, and try — if just for a moment — to have things Teachout or Arrival describe personified. The same is true is for any other medium, music, writing, and more. We’re trying to experience that human experience in the form of art.
Christianity offers a similar view of this concept. God in the flesh comes to earth, knowingly to experience the worst form of death and separation from everything He knew. To know everything in advance, and indeed, to be able to likely know what it feels like, the rejection, pain, torture, and more. And to still walk through it in life. It’s the ultimate decision of love.
The true depths of love, loss, and more can only be known if lived. We think about fairy tale beginnings and ends, but reality has more depth. The Disney fairy tales are the coloring book depiction of life’s Rembrandt. And in that vein, it’s indisputable that Teachout experienced a depth of love that some people will never know, even though they claim far more “perfect” lives.
Teachout wrote about art, theater, and culture from across the country. He celebrated ordinary things and the depictions of great American art by everyday people. As John Podhoretz wrote, “Terry possessed an extraordinary talent, all the more extraordinary because his life’s work was a defense of the value, meaning, and profundity of ordinariness. A child of small-town Missouri, he was someone who made a study of every topic that interested him and, with his passion for completeness, achieved a greater level of expertise in matters of high and popular culture than just about anyone in America.”
That brings me to the end of this, where I don’t have a clear conclusion or outro. Only to say, as I’m watching many of these famous names come to an end, I wonder if they ever lived. A life spent in fear experiences extreme lack. I hope we can all experience the depths of life’s Rembrandt moments, the good and bad, because that’s a life worth living.
Links of the week
Let’s Not Invent a Civil War – Ross Douthat, NYT
What Republicans should promise voters in their first 100 days: Imagining what a 2022 GOP agenda might be – Samuel Goldman, The Week
‘On the brink of collapse,’ California pot businesses call for tax overhaul: Small cannabis growers and operators say the state’s hefty taxes are shutting them out despite promises to expand the industry and make it more inclusive. – NBC News
Terry Teachout, 1956-2022 – John Podhoretz, Commentary Magazine
Terry Teachout, R.I.P. – Richard Brookhiser, National Review
Why Republicans aren’t likely to lose any Senate seats in 2022 – Harry Enten, CNN
Dems Had One Job: Don’t Be Crazy. They’re Mucking It Up – If the party’s leaders can’t keep schools open, communities safe, and citizenship meaningful, what are they good for? – Matt Lewis, The Daily Beast
It’s time for the press to take Tom Cotton seriously – Becket Adams, Washington Examiner
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!