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Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee

Secker & Warburg, July 1, 1999

Observing night brighten to the calm assurance of dawn is to witness grace. Yet, morning occurs with such reliability that billions sleep through the passage from dark to light oblivious. We fall asleep, maybe dream, and wake, ignoring the chance to relate to our environment, which manages an assured capacity to reset, recharge.

Apathy toward daybreak is regrettable, since transitions that occur as fluidly as nature’s sequence are rare and merit appreciation. Consider, for instance, the struggle a nation undergoes in the process of refining its identity. Over a half million perished in America’s Civil War: Casualties mark the high cost of opposing advancement. In more recent history, a post-apartheid South Africa toils, fighting strife along a path toward reform. And what about revolution, anyway? Political shifts never abolish woe; unrest only passes hardships onto future generations in altered configuration. Meanwhile, the sun dutifully rises on a twenty-four hour cycle, consistently, deliberately, and peacefully.

All very swift and businesslike; all very unlike Africa.

Countries fall susceptible to clashes because they are governed by man, who bears an unfortunate penchant for defying transformation with greater objection as a lifetime wears on. Individuals mature stubbornly attached to outdated method, breeding cynicism and collectively embedding a land in yesterday’s shadow. Wee hours may illuminate possibilities ahead, but ancient sands keep lazy eyes sealed shut. Thus, little changes overnight, irrespective of the sky.

His temperament is not going to change, he is too old for that. His temperament is fixed, set. The skull, followed by the temperament: the two hardest parts of the body.

One may contend that the solar system functions set on its own rigid course. The primary difference is that celestial flares release hope in their methodical presence, whereas humans enter an abyss by virtue of routine. Quotidian thought and action become daunting forces for mankind, instead of a source of aspiration like the earliest glimmer of day. Accordingly, we suffer in scorn, when lacking the will to see a fresh tomorrow.

For the first time he has a taste of what it will be like to be an old man, tired to the bone, without hopes, without desires, indifferent to the future. Slumped on a plastic chair amid the stench of chicken feathers and rotting apples, he feels his interest in the world draining from him drop by drop. It may take weeks, it may take months before he is bled dry, but he is bleeding. When that is finished, he will be like a fly-casing in a spiderweb, brittle to the touch, lighter than rice-chaff, ready to float away.

Aging empirically suggests a manner of physical decay, a lethal metamorphosis from lustrous ascent to faded obscurity. The exacting process is perhaps the cruelest conversion of all because everyone faces its ravages. Nevertheless, mental atrophy is somewhat less inevitable than sagging pale skin. Should faculties remain sharp into elder years, then we choose whether or not to avoid cognitive renewal. The person opting to doze through occasion for reflective rejuvenation emerges irreparably maimed and destined for certain extinction.

Look up. Remain watchful from blackness until morn. The promise is not that despondency dims upon the start of a new day, rather that, even with a modicum of effort, the elegance of transfiguration always lifts overhead.