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Opening The Shuttered Room
No matter how painful, eventually you must go into his room. Each book on the shelves, every dirty sock strewn carelessly on the floor in anticipation of picking it up tomorrow, the odd angle of the pillow on the bed, and the scent–oh, God, above all the scent–remind you both of the life and of its passing. Still, you must open the door, for his passing didn’t relieve you of your duties. In fact, your duties doubled.
Rising up from your pessimism, you reach the top stair and look to your right. Even his door projects his image. You think of a half dozen other things you could do on the second floor before you open the grand door on the right. You stall, emotions in overdrive. You use the bathroom to splash some cold water on your face and check your hair. It’s grayer than it was just this morning. And your eyes look older and sadder. But these are just more delays.
You turn out of the bathroom, and there he is on the door–the door you must open. Just before your hand reaches the knob you notice a hand print right their on the door. On his door. Back to the bathroom for a damp cloth. He’s barely gone and already the door is stained. Not stained; just smudged. You return with the cloth and clear the smudge, then return the cloth to the sink and try again.
This time, you hardly notice his face on the door and your courage is greater than it was last time and your fingers and palm wrap around the cold brass knob that reminds you of something on an old sailing ship. Click. The door opens. Gratitude, for having known him, envelopes you.
There was the time when you were twelve or so and first his voice but then remembered you’d heard him before on television when you were really young. Your mom said something about him, at the time. You were too young to remember anything except that he had the same first name as you, and everyone was surprised to see him on such a racy television show. But you’d remember his name this time. In fact, the name was magic and wonderful and poetic like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Thurston Howell, III. But his name was not like theirs. His name was more like yours, and you assumed he’s Irish like you. So you listened to every surprising word and mentally imitated his unusual accent and you never stopped listening even now as you push open the door to his room.
Returning to the present, you look around, speechless, at the many things he left behind. In photographs, you see his dream walking through others eyes, and one picture takes you back to the first time you saw his name in print. Your mom took you to a new B. Dalton that just opened in Hampton Village. You spot his name on the cover of a magazine, and Mom gives three dollars to buy it. Three hours later, you feel glutinous, having raced through this paper paradise too fast. You think of Paul on the road to Damascus.
Sunday afternoons become appointment television. Your beloved Big Red must wait while you tune to PBS to meet Edward Teller, Mark Greene, and countless other fascinating, brilliant people. You fall on the floor laughing at the scene in Bananas when Woody Allen scans the pornography section of a book store to find, between Penthouse and Playboy, National Review. Again, in Annie Hall, when Woody finds a copy of National Review in Diane Keaton’s apartment and angrily demands, “why don’t you call William F. Buckley to come over and kill the spider?”
Now inside the room, you find yourself immersed in memories of the Man at Yale. You’re glad, so glad, you decided to open the door. But before your pride adheres, you realize that he opened the door for you. You and millions of others.
The first issue of National Review published since William F. Buckley escaped the surly bonds of Earth arrived today. As I did with the first issue I ever touched in 1978, I read this one cover to cover. Like Buckley’s life, the issue was too short, yet complete.
Buy many copies of this issue. Make your children read it, and if they’re too young or unborn, save for when they’re ready. Every American child deserves to know the man who launched the last great defense of the last great hope for freedom. Every child deserves to know the life that every happy warrior should hope to lead.