Lee Sandlin Graceland Dedication, August 17, 2019  

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Reading - from Lee's "Road to Nowhere" (1984)

Read by Beth Escott Newcomer

I think that the most hateful clichés all concern growing older and realizing that the world will always be there whatever happens. I’ve known grandparents of various persuasions who believed that the sum of their accumulated life’s wisdom was contained in the phrase, “Life goes on.” The bombs fall, the world we know vanishes in a sheet of flame, nuclear winter sets in, and then, the damnedest thing, it’s really kind of despicable when you think about it — the survivors struggle to fit together some kind of cut-rate culture and maybe even succeed at it. And there’s old granny, nodding sagely among the debris, still saying, "Oh, yes, life goes on, I told you it would."

Of course, there is the other possibility for suburban apocalypse. It will happen someday — maybe in a century, maybe it happened last night. Somewhere along the thousands of miles of antenna the astronomers have strung up will be resonating, faintly, secretly, and unmistakably, a message from another star. It will happen, I do believe that; but now I also believe — my one contribution to granny lore — that whatever the message is, we won’t be able to understand it. How could it be otherwise? If the message were simple, it could be interpreted in a thousand ways; if it were complicated, it could never be long enough, contain enough information about itself, for us to decode it completely. We’d just have to be content that the message really came at last.

That would never have been enough for me in the old days. The grand transformation into angelic extraterrestrials — the annunciation, the assumption — would any of that have been enough? Not if it didn’t happen in my lifetime — preferably before I had to get a job. Oh yes, life goes on. What I didn’t realize then was that no matter how conclusive the apocalypse, people will still find a way to make it go on.

But it may still come out some other way. The slow trickle of qualitative changes may finally overflow the bowl — a moment no one can predict, like the first atom at the heart of the warhead that shatters into the nova. One day, somehow, you wake to find the world redeemed. You leave, as usual, by the back stairs; sunrise is spreading soft yellows and salmons — clouds are gilded pearls — silver gleams on the laundry lines; cats blink from kitchen windows; and at last you stand on the street to see the world curve gently up around you, you see the thousand islands of the city shaking free of the transforming mist, mist winding in from the surrounding and forgiving sea.

That’s what I dreamed inside my sleeping bag on an amazingly cold morning in Minneapolis. The pleasure of it stayed with me throughout the day…