The last pages of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road are about the hardest thing any father will ever have to read.
The man is dying. He knows it. He knows it means leaving his boy alone—alone in a terrible world. He knows he has just a few minutes left to teach, to prepare his son for life without him.
What does he do? What does he say? The passage is worth quoting here in full:
I want to be with you.
You cant. You have to carry the fire.
I dont know how to.
Yes you do.
Is it real? The fire?
Yes it is.
Where is it? I dont know where it is.
Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it.
The fire is real. The fire, as we’ve said, is goodness. It’s all the things you’ve been trying to teach your kids since the moment you first met them. It can feel awkward sometimes—these little platitudes you tell them. These books you read to them. Even emails like this can seem a bit cheesy.
But there’s a purpose to it. It’s because one day, they will face an enormous challenge: the challenge of life. And you won’t be there to help them. It’s in that challenge, that you’ll need them to believe. In goodness. In the right thing. In the mission they’re on. You’ll want them to carry the fire, to light the darkness, to stay true. You’ll need them to know that all they need is already inside them and has been all along.
So tell them now. While you still can.