Raymond James Financial recently put out this commercial lionizing the “precisely organized retirement,” and it’s a pretty adept depiction of how we Americans so often view life anyways, having “a place for everything,” the self-ordering of life—you can do it, too! Immortality! And not just immortality, but a ceaseless mastery of life through rigorous activities of self-improvement and accomplishment: our figure has “planned for every eventuality,” to be beaten by nothing but her own limitless gaze into the future, at the spritely age of 187! What vigor, what pizzazz! “Despite her years, she had the means to live on as she saw fit.” What’s the secret? A strong plan, of course! Who is in control here? Apparently we are!
The urge was too strong to fight; it’s the perfect beginning to a post-mortem Flannery O’Connor story, without the ending! And yet, the ending’s been written, in her terrific story “Greenleaf.” It depicts a successful Southern woman, Mrs. May, trapped in her privatized conception of how ordered, how grand she is, who “thought the word, Jesus, should be kept inside the church building like other words inside the bedroom. She was a good Christian woman with a large respect for religion, though she did not, of course, believe any of it was true.” She puts everyone in their place, including the landworkers, the Greenleafs, whom she disdains. They are attempting to kill a bull, while she waits in the car, and she begins to get impatient, as her plans seem to be falling out of sort, so she decides to take things into her own hands. Watch the video first, then read this excerpt, as the violence of grace interrupts her.
“Here [the bull] is, Mr. Greenleaf!” she called and looked on the other side of the pasture to see if he could be coming out there but he was not in sight. She looked back and saw that the bull, his head lowered, was racing toward her. She remained perfectly still, not in fright, but in freezing unbelief. She stared at the violent black streak bounding toward her as if she had no sense of distance, as if she could not decide at once what his intention was, and the bull had buried his head in her lap, like a wild tormented lover, before her expression changed. One of his horns sank until it pierced her heart and other curved around her side and held her in an unbreakable grip. She continued to stare straight ahead but the entire scene in front of her had changed…”