Stanley Jenkins
What Is Left Behind


“Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.’” Genesis 12:1


I am not perhaps the first to realize that there is a discrepancy between what one’s been schooled to believe--what I, as an adult, have chosen to believe--and what is. And again I am not perhaps the first to be curious about the discrepancy. (Somewhere between Joseph Smith’s magic seer stones and what is just there independent of you or me--is the truth.) I am not perhaps the first to succumb to his own magic seer stones--what I, as an adult, have chosen to believe--only to find himself astonished to be all papa-bear-elemental when his fourteen year old stepson grasps his own seer stones--which aren’t mine--and is so obviously duped (alas, it’s about a girl....). And again, perhaps, I am not the first to be aware of the irony. (Somewhere, in the midst of his error, my certainty, his life, and my awareness of how possible it is to be wrong--is the truth.) I am not perhaps the first. But in my own life, as in the life of my stepson. Or in the life of my own father. I am the last. Just as is my stepson. Just as was my father. In their own lives. (Man! I’ve been here too long.) Come Judgment Day, God isn’t going to ask us what Ralph Waldo Emerson said. Or Dick Cheney. He isn’t going to take the measure of another man’s life. He’s going to ask us. Each one of us. He’s going to ask us what we left behind. And he’s going to ask us why.

“The Bush crowd hurtled into Baghdad on the law of Disney: Wishing can make it so. Now they're ensnared in the law of the jungle....” Maureen Dowd, New York Times, 11/9/03

I am not perhaps the first, upon realizing that he has fallen and can’t get up, to reach for True North and find it in the felt fact there there was a previously unknown foundation within, a limit beneath which one didn’t fall. And I am not perhaps the first to be grateful. (Somewhere between the mystery of gravity and the joyous fact that the sidewalk holds our weight--is truth.) I am not perhaps the first to long in every moment for the surety of step--as if always crossing a bridge high above the full forty fathoms deep--only to find himself clinging desperately and without grace to the first fallen log careening down the flood. And I am perhaps not the first to wonder at the ferocity of the current. (Somewhere between desire and the need for security--is the truth.) I am not perhaps the first. But in my life. In each of our lives. We are the last. Come Judgment Day, God isn’t going to ask us why we sold every dignity for a chance at safe passage. He isn’t going to ask us how our hands got so dirty. That’s all beside the point. (And besides--I’ve got it on good word--he knows what’s required. Required to get home. And he’s not particular.) Come Judgment Day, he’s going to ask us. Each one of us. He’s going to ask us what we left behind. And he’s going to ask us why.

“The United States and other nations did nothing to deserve or invite this threat. But we will do everything to defeat it. Instead of drifting along toward tragedy, we will set a course toward safety. Before the day of horror can come, before it is too late to act, this danger will be removed.” George W. Bush, 3/17/03

I am not perhaps the first to turn in his guns after having run against the inevitable, having seen the writing on the wall, and decided that it was better to face the fact that he’s got something to lose (O horror-filled truth!) than to live his life in the wind and the rain and a price upon his head and gun behind every door. And I am not perhaps the first to find relief in surrender, surrender to the fact that this world is not made in my image. (Somewhere between pride and death--is truth.) I am not perhaps the first to watch the old and passing in horror, as they scratch at the present in their frustration and infect it with their resentment and need for revenge, only to find himself freezing the future in some panic to find a moment--any moment--of peace. And I am not perhaps the first to be aware of the irony. (Somewhere between the need to have arrived and the slow drip of absence--is truth.) I am not perhaps the first. But in my life. In each of our lives. We are the last. Come Judgment Day, God is not going to ask us the pedigree of our fear--as if fear of imaginary threats were any less fear than fear of real threats. He’s not going to ask us to account for our every inability to know what we don’t know--as if time itself weren’t license to make it up as we go along. He’s going to ask us. Each one of us. He’s going to ask us what we left behind. And he’s going to ask us why.