“God died last year…” in Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
Was it the winter of ’67 or ’68? I’m lost, but without doubt it was Dubuque & in an unheated auditorium of an all-girls Catholic college. Beyond the glassed-in lobby & the all-too predictable monotony of snowdrifts, the wind raged on with its teeth-clenched vengeance while, inside, we were resigned, numb to the bone in an endless winter, but forcing ourselves to rise to the challenge of practicing our inbred, mid-American penchant of high-minded endurance until God deigned to send down some relief & spring might break out again & bless this land with new life once more. An glow lifting off the two hundred or more closely packed in coeds as they crowded together for Auden, the headline on all Lit professors’ reading list for a hundred miles in every direction, his furrowed press photo papered & stapled onto campus kiosks from Decorah to Winona to DeKalb, his face so rucked, so wrinkled over that it seemed to be in mocking imitation of the winter-stubbled cornfields in & out of every small town, but then his lecture was so outrageously incomprehensible, his thoughts so wine-garbled after abundant faculty toasts that even the sober, underage coeds with all their blushed-on, high cheekbones could barely continue scribbling down notes crowded with classical allusions for papers everyone knew would never be written despite the girls’ rock-foundation in Greek classics & Aquinas’s casuistry under their belts. Muffled giggles throughout the auditorium, & now, so many years later, we clearly understand how, without any shadow of doubt, those coeds would soon be decimated as they took off for the promises of both coasts, having first discovered Morrison, Joplin, Sartre & their own brand of unbridled sex. Yes, there probably were even whispers then, hesitant certainly, but whispers & mumblings nonetheless akin to, Sweet Jesus, what do you think? Maybe God really is dead?