[SPOILER ALERT]

The Road follows the post-apocalyptic story of a father and a son walking on a road, trying to get to warmer weather. The apparent disaster has made the grass, trees, sky, sea, and literally everything else  an ashen color that is gray and bland and awful and will never change. The father and son encounter lawless and savage bandits on the road, people held in cellars as meat, and at one point, a child roasting on a spit. Really.

Cormac McCarthy has described this book as a “love story” from a father to a son, to the consternation of…well, anyone who has read the book. They don’t know how to square the cyclical violence, the overarching dread, and the crushing despair with anything that could be described as a “love story.”

But I can!

Here are 3 reasons The Road is not as depressing as you think.

1 When hope is removed, you must be more present.

Now, I’m not saying it’s a good thing to remove hope, but if there was hope, if there was civilization, if there was a future…how many fathers would be spending that much time with their sons? Time to ask questions, explore, challenge, get taught how to be a man, etc.

When hope is removed from the equation and you don’t have the distractions of the new age, you are forced to be more present and focus on what’s important to you. One hopes it doesn’t take the world falling, but if the world has fallen, get closer to what you love.

2 Humans are not the only things in the world.

The Road has an amazing perspective that extends beyond human beings. Its essence is perfectly captured within the last paragraph of the book (ellipses mine):

Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains…..On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived, all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.

Notwithstanding the powerhouse vocabulary that includes the word “vermiculate,” you can see that from the perspective of The Road, there are things that are older than man and always will be. It promises a certain release from the dreaded “Responsibility of Everything” by reminding us that we are simply a part of a grand cycle of life and death, birth and decay, a process much older than we are. Life doesn’t end when we do.

Sure, we would all fight our extinction tooth and nail, but it doesn’t mean it’s not comforting to know that life really does go on, even without us.

3 In the absence of everything else, there is love.

Circling around to McCarthy’s “love story” comment, you realize that The Road is about a world in which there is nothing. No animals or trees or grass or blue sea or cities or NOTHING. However, in the falling of the world, you know what survives?

Love.

McCarthy makes a strong point that wherever humans walk the face of the planet, love will follow. The father and the son have love between each other in the form of compassion, sacrifice, loyalty, and goodness.

The father shows bravery when he kills the bandit to protect his son. The son shows compassion on the old man with no shoes. The father shows the grimmest form of devotion by keeping a bullet around so if everything goes bad, his son doesn’t suffer.

It’s also worth noting that McCarthy includes almost no information on the father and son, how they look, where they’re really from, etc. It could be anyone. It could be any father, or any son.

These capacities, these features of humanity, do not disappear, even in the bleakest of circumstances, and a father and a son will be able to love each other for as long as they draw breath.

Make no mistake, The Road is no walk in the park. But it is powerful. It is meaningful. And I believe, it’s more than just “depressing.” These sorts of lessons on the limits of humanity may be grim, but by equal measure inspiring, such as learning that even at the end of all things, there will be love.

That’s a story worth telling.

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