We all read Kurt Vonnegut in school in the sixties, eagerly scooping up each new one as soon as it came out. We all thought Slaughterhouse Five had been written for us, that wackily elegaic novel that spoke our opposition to the war, written by someone who had been tried as we all knew we had not been tried and never would be. Vonnegut had earned the right to speak, as we had not. We knew that about ourselves, even then.
He reminded us of the Dresden firestorm, at a time when public rhetoric
about warfare consistently cast us in the attractive role of reluctant
but dutiful warriors. He introduced the ultimate altruism of the
volunteer firefighter as a Christ figure. He cautioned us about
trusting too much in rules of engagement in war to civilize an
enterprise that is fundamentally savage.
And he was funny. Dark, mordant, doomed. We were funny, too, in our way, but we were enfants terribles. He was a grownup, a member of our parents' generation, a man who had paid the same dues they had paid, dues we had not paid, but who had reached different conclusions than those in charge of things had reached. And we loved him.
I last saw him a couple of years ago, at Bishop Paul Moore's funeral. All of the clergy processed, long lines of us, two by two, stretching the entire length of the longest cathedral in the world as we made our stately way up the center aisle.
Vonnegut had an aisle seat, and I caught his eye as I approached. I was a little shocked to see him there, but there was no reason, really, for
my surprise. They were two of a kind, the two old men, the two veterans, the two anti-war warhorses, and they were friends. I put my hand over my heart and bowed a bit as I passed him, and he nodded and smiled a little. A moment of memory and admiration that he must have received thousands of times from people my age. You helped raise me, I told him silently as I looked into his beautiful fierce sad eyes, thanks and thanks.
They said on the radio that he had fallen and hit his head a short while ago. I hadn't heard. And now he has come unstuck in time, as we all actually are. Only we don't know it. So it goes.