Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination underscores the battles to come over Roe v. Wade and religious liberty
My father gave me my first tip on writing. His own writing was limited to the jotting of room measurements for the installation of carpets and linoleum. While all he did was run a furniture store, I, at the tender age of 10, was being asked to return to school the next morning with a composition. I understand they don’t call them compositions anymore.
Sometimes I wish my editors would assign me a specific topic to talk about on this penultimate page of the magazine, but they don’t, and neither did Soeur Jeanne de Valois. Hence my terror, then and now.
So as I complained bitterly over the unfairness of life and uncertainty of survival of the morrow’s English class, my father stepped into my brother’s room (which had a desk), knelt on one knee, as is still his habit, and suffered with me in a camaraderie of silence over a blank paper.
Try for a moment to imagine nothing, and you will find that you invariably cheat.
After enough of this, he came out with what may have been an excuse to beat a retreat, or may have been genius, and said to me, “Why don’t you write about nothing!”
“Nothing?” I said incredulously as he tiptoed away, then found myself alone again, a gauntlet thrown at my feet.
Try for a moment to imagine nothing, and you will find that you invariably cheat: You smuggle in something. People who think there is nothing after death, for example, probably are picturing sleep, which is very different. If they thought harder about it, I wager many would fear and come to Christ. “Nothing” is not something you want for your future—not after experiencing all these sparkling lakes and starry nights and golden fields. Nothing is like drawing a circle that is empty inside, and then erasing the circle. Annihilation!
But back to the task at hand: How do you predicate anything about nothing for two pages (front and back) for the unappeasable Valois? Now that I think of it, Seinfeld was a TV show about nothing, and it ran for nine seasons. And there are politicians who say nothing but say it convincingly enough to get reelected for longer than that. There is an art to milking nothing.
You can overdo the art, though. As when the reputed greatest orator of his time, Edward Everett, bellowed for two hours in 1863 what is now considered the “other” Gettysburg speech, the memorable one of that day being Abe Lincoln’s 272 words. I like Everett, however. Behold his graciousness to the president in oratorical defeat: “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours as you did in two minutes.” Makes me want to read his speech.
Let us not forget that God created out of nothing. Or ex nihilo, as college people like to call it. Note that He did not create nothing, but something. I see that as a repudiation of nothingness and a thumbs up to somethingness, the state of which is problematic to any thinking philosopher. For as German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz said (here I show my own college credentials), the problem is not that there is nothing: The problem is that there is something.
That is to say, no explanation would be needed for there being nothing. Indeed, there would be no one around to raise the question. But it should trouble stubborn atheists and evolutionists alike who still insist there is no God and no ultimate meaning in the universe. Why, then, sirs, is there anything at all?
But I digress again. Back to the empty page, let us dip our pen and begin: “Any fool can write about something. But I propose for this writing assignment to write about nothing …” May it be judged by Soeur Jeanne de Valois that I have succeeded in honoring my father’s instructions.