Guest Essayist Kirk Curnutt: Time the Avenger, Time the Redeemer

I am so thrilled to welcome my friend and colleague, Dr. Kirk Curnutt, as a special guest essayist for Reflection and Choice.  Thank you, Kirk.

Time the Avenger, Time the Redeemer

One of the first things I did after my father died unexpectedly in 1992 was count calendar squares back to his final birthday. He lived exactly forty-nine years and 108 days, I discovered. The precise number was important because I knew a time would come, if I managed to eke it out, when I would have to admit that I had lived longer than he ever did.


The author and his father, 1971, turning 7 and 29 respectively.

Knowing the number of days wasn’t necessary for calculating when this turning point would occur. That didn’t require much math. Because I was born on my father’s twenty-second birthday, all I had to do was flip forward a couple of decades and a deuce and go one day past the solemn anniversary whose observance would by then, I feared, have grown old hat.  

The number was of more ritual importance. I needed it to imagine the countdown—or the count-up—I knew I would commence when I hit that final November 15 of my forties: 10 … 20 … 80 .. 100 …

March 3, 2014, I scribbled in a now-discarded notebook. Forty-nine and 109. It wasn’t intended as an Oedipal boast or taunt. It was a warning from my twenty-seven year-old self to prepare for the day I would lose my father all over again.

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Ik Marvel is forgotten today, although in his own day he was an inspiration to such literary luminaries as Washington Irving and Emily Dickinson.  What other fate could befall a modest essayist who began his popular Reveries of a Bachelor (1850) with this sentence: “This book is neither more nor less than it pretends to be: it is a collection of those floating Reveries which have, from time to time, drifted across my brain.”  Yet the floating Reveries of Marvel (Donald Grant Mitchell) have a marvelous power to settle in the imagination, take root, and send forth shoots and flowers.  Consider his quietly rapturous description of the great early nineteenth-century ideal of domestic bliss. Continue reading