Sunday, March 3, 2019

Of Love and Loss in Eudora Welty's "A Still Moment"

White heron by John James Audubon
Kudos to the fourteen members who came out on a February evening marked by 50-mile-per-hour winds for our discussion of Eudora Welty’s short story “A Still Moment.”

With the benefit of our discussion, it seems to me a fundamental question to ask of the story is, “How was Lorenzo transformed by his encounter with Murrell, Audubon, and the heron.” Specifically, “How did it influence what he will preach to his followers?”

An answer lies in the story’s final account of Dow’s thoughts on Time, Love, and Separateness. Dow had experienced, with the other men, a lovely vision of the heron. The shooting of the bird shattered that vision. Welty writes, “… suddenly it seemed to him [Dow] that God Himself, just now, thought of the idea of Separateness. For surely he had never thought of it before, when the little white heron was flying down to feed." His thoughts continue: “Perhaps it was that God never counted the moments of Time; Lorenzo did that, among his tasks of love. Time did not occur to God. Therefore – did He even know of it? How to explain Time and Separateness back to God, Who had never thought of them, Who could let the whole world come to grief in a shattering moment [emphasis added]."

The last sentence implies belief in a transcendent God who is indifferent to the joys and sufferings of humankind. When Lorenzo looks upon the place where the heron had been, “the sweat of rapture poured down from his forehead.” He shouts into the marshes, “Tempter!”

The use of the word “rapture” has obvious parallels with Christian “end-of time” beliefs, just as Dow’s exclamation of “Tempter!” has parallels with the biblical Garden of Eden story.

Dow now speeds his way on his horse to his flock, fully realizing, as we just learned, that God has no concept of Time. We mortal humans, on the other hand, cannot get by without Time.

The title of his sermon will be “In that day when all hearts shall be disclosed.” Earlier in the story, before his encounter with the others, Dow had rehearsed his sermon while riding on the trail: “Inhabitants of Time. The wilderness is your souls on earth. Look about you, if you would view the conditions of your spirit, put here by the good Lord to show you and affright you. These wild places and these trails of awesome loneliness lie nowhere, nowhere, but in your heart.”

"A Still Moment" poses many deep enigmas of our existence in relation to a supernatural force, but does not give clear-cut answers. Nonetheless the story leaves us with the impression that our personal journey on the trail -- and the people, creatures, scenes we encounter -- makes us better able to touch the souls of others. One expects Dow to deliver a powerhouse of an address.