Happy Birthday, Mr. Berry!
Wendell Berry and Pastoral Ministry

Wendell Berry on August 6, 1945

A RESULT

Late Monday morning, August sixth, the president announces that on the day before an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Mat, who was at work in the garden, happened to come to the house with a bucket of tomatoes just as the news came on the radio. And so with Margaret and Hannah and Nettie he hears most of the story, the correct voice of the newsman reciting what there is to tell, standing the event nakedly among them in the room, leaving it there without explanation or comment. Or at least, in the silence after the radio is snapped off, such explanation as was given seems overwhelmed by the event itself.

After he finishes his work in the garden, he hitches his team to the mowing machine and goes until sundown in the unending rounds, cutting the weeds and tree-sprouts that rise against him year after year in the opened fields.

Better than any other work he loves the mowing. He goes through the long afternoon, watching with a kind of ardor the tall growth in its flowing backward fall over the chattering teeth of the cutter bar, the slow uncovering of the shape of the long ridge. It is, as always, one of the heights of his intimacy with the place, and he does not flag in his attentiveness. When the sun has reddened and cooled and come down, throwing deeps shadows into the hollows, he turns the team toward the edge of the field, and speaks, stopping them. He throws the machine out of gear and, getting stiffly down, raises the cutter bar and bolts it upright. He takes up the reins again, lifts himself back onto the seat, speaks to the team, and the iron wheels begin to turn in the direction of the barn, soundlessly for the first time in hours, over the cushion of mowed grass.

And through all that time he has been followed by the unfinished knowledge of the bomb and the destroyed city. He has felt his mind borne, like a man in a little boat, on the crest of history, in a violence of pure effect, as though the event of the war, having long ago outdistanced its cause, now escapes comprehension, and speeds on. It has seemed to him that the years of violence have at last arrived at what, without his knowing it, they had been headed for, not by any human reason but by the logic of violence itself. And all the events of the war are at once altered by their result—though he cannot yet tell how or how much.

Wendell Berry, A Place on Earth (1983)

If you have not yet read A Place on Earth, please do yourself the great favor. If you have read it, maybe it's time for another look at this tremendous novel. 

This brief section strikes me as one of the most honest presentations of how the terrible news of the bombing of Hiroshima might have been received. The subtle contrast of Mat Feltner's pleasant and peaceful care of his place with his new knowledge, abstract and incomplete, of the utter destruction of another place captures the struggle to conceive of the inconceivable.  

 

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