Mortui vivos docent

Tiresias appears to Odysseus, Johann Heinrich Fusslig, c. 1785
Tiresias appears to Odysseus, Johann Heinrich Fusslig, c. 1785

My friend Fr. Ken Tanner pointed me to this EW piece by Anthony Breznican. The piece is well-written (the sentence, “Hoffman waved his cigarette around like incense dispelling evil spirits,” is ironically poignant), and it captures a truth that people in my line of work (classical education) talk about an awful lot: the truth is out there.

I know, I know, that’s the Mulder tagline from The X-Files, but it’s actually a catchy phrasing of something Christian thinkers have been saying since Paul put it to the Romans this way: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” The truth about God–which, by the way, is the truth about everything–is hidden in plain sight.

In Hoffman’s case, the truth is about priorities. We live in the fog of a spiritual war, one where, at our most powerful, we are foot soldiers. And that fog makes seeing our lives clearly very, very hard. Walking in that fog can make feeding an addiction seem like therapy, can make gossip seem like catharsis, and (as Hoffman tells Berzican) can make having children seem like an impossible burden. In short, the fog makes a lie look like the truth.

We need someone to lift the fog. Sometimes that someone is a casual acquaintance, as Hoffman was in this case, someone who can see what you cannot because they are outside your circumstance. Sometimes a close friend can do it. In both cases, listening, hearing them is the most difficult part. And sometimes, some long-dead fellow rises from a book like the shade of Tiresias to Odysseus, his features sharpening, his arguments clarifying, not because he is becoming more solid but because my own vision is clearing. The dead teach the living.

Sometimes, we are able to enjoy the third encounter because someone shared one of the first. That’s what this article does. For though I know what Hoffman says is true, it can be easy to slip back into the fog, to push my family, my children, aside for my ambition. Thanks to Breznican, Hoffman–the actor, addict, father–appears to me, shrouded in that devil-dispelling incense and says, “You don’t ‘make time’ to be a mom and dad. When you have a kid, you figure out how to make time for work and all the other stuff. All the priorities you have now totally shift, whether you want them to or not.” And, “Your priorities will clarify.”

To that I say, please God, so be it.

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