In 1946 William Faulkner wrote and sent to his publisher an “appendix” to his classic 1929 novel THE SOUND AND THE FURY, the story of the unraveling of an aristocratic southern family. The novel is difficult to read, and in his appendix Faulkner provided a brief genealogy of the Mississippi family whose story is told, and a description of what eventually happened to each of the characters in the book. It ends with a two-word description of Dilsey, the African American cook who was the primary source of stability in the doomed and dysfunctional Compson family. Of Dilsey he said, simply, “They endured.”
Four years later, on December 10, 1950, delivering his famous acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, Faulkner uttered a sentence destined to become famous. One cannot help but be struck by the subtle shift in his language: “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” Those words were spoken at the beginning of what came to be known as the Cold War, a bitter and anxious time in American history.
We have arrived at a “Faulkner moment,” have we not? We live in an anxious time, and our national debate has been bitter and divisive. Our political discourse is often not civil, and the lack of contemporary consensus about what constitutes the American vision can be discouraging. We are haunted by the question of who we are and what America looks like at her best. Some believe our best times are behind us. Those are the realities we are living with. And yet, I believe Faulkner had it right. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that our human spirit is “capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.” I believe we will rise above this moment in time. I believe that what is best about our God-given nature will not only endure. It will prevail.
Rev. Don Underwood