Perhaps the thing that changed for me is a newfound and intense interest in the Local. I don’t know about glacial retreat, but I know about armed Fulani herdsmen encroaching on my uncle’s home in Jos, Nigeria. I don’t know about marine-isotope stages, but I know what my firefighter cousin tells me about the diverse mandate of his work. I don’t know about the world, but I know about downtown New Haven.
People have already asked me — me, who, a few years ago, fumbled with his TV channels for so long he missed the opening minutes of a Super Bowl — for solutions regarding our climate plight. I have no policy prescriptions and even less faith in their implementation, but I do have faith in horses. Or rather something that horses can sometimes do to us. For us. I have faith in books, stories, that alchemic way of communicating to someone that they are not alone.
A decade and a half ago, I worked at a campus Barnes & Noble and one of my co-workers had just finished reading Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road.” As a disclaimer, he said he was not a big reader. But he had just had a son, and reading the book, he claimed, changed how he looked at the world around him, how he looked at his newborn son, how he looked at his family’s place in it all. I like to think it was because he saw something of himself in the characters. A possible future metaphorizing the difficulty of caring for his progeny? A mimesis of his relationship with his own father? Something else entirely? I don’t know, but whatever was communicated, the very fact of its communication meant that for the duration of that reading, he was not alone.
I promised myself that I would not write something treacly about representation in response to the question of “What is reality?” so I will say that I think, whatever our future, suffering is inevitable. The future of climate dystopia has already arrived in the Pacific, in the Sahel, in Central Europe, on the eastern and western coasts of North America, everywhere, and it is being felt most by the least among us, the always abandoned. If that were the entirety of my reality, hopelessness would be the order of the day. But I return to God, not as patina but as substratum. I return to that idea that there is an order, an Author, to it all, and horses. They appear in the post-apocalypse of “Goliath,” amid the least among us, the always abandoned, for a reason. To say: “You may have lost it all, but you have not lost me, whoever or whatever I am. There is magic here too, at the end of the world.”
I don’t have God to give you, and I don’t have horses, but I have my books, my stories, the pledge that today for the duration of your engagement, you will not be alone, and the mad hope that tomorrow, the same will be true.
Tochi Onyebuchi is the author of “Riot Baby” and, most recently, “Goliath.”