On Protestantism

G.C. Waldrep

MAR Vol. XXXIV, no. 1

There once was a man who aspired to be a verb. After all, you can bogart, you can mulligan, you can even hoover the floor. Many accomplished, powerful, and/or learned men had things named after them:  parliaments, sectors of Antarctica, mathematical equations. These were all worthy monuments, the man reasoned, but how much better to be an action, something kinetic, ongoing.

Unfortunately, the man’s name was unpronounceable, even in the obscure dialect in which it originated. I can’t even print the man’s name here, in any script I know.

Chagrined, beset by personal demons of worthlessness and self-loathing, the man eventually found work in the insurance industry where, to his and everyone else’s surprise, he excelled as an actuary. Some inchoate inner prompting enabled him to predict with remarkable precision the casualty rates among the various cohorts of his fellow citizens. He was well paid for his work, which he enjoyed in a small way; he was able to eat out when he wanted at the finest restaurants.

Late at night, though, he would still find himself gazing up at the stars, or else out past the estuary, into the mysterious vanishing point where the sea and dark sky merged, all the while murmuring his own name, which only he could pronounce. Maybe the way those abandoned derricks glinted in the moonlight, or the peculiar crabwise motion of that tug. Maybe the unmistakable currents of the night breezes that smelled ever so faintly of camphor and citrus, or the twinkle of electrical light from the furthest suburbs, scaling the nearest slopes of the mountains.

It wouldn’t have to be much. Some little thing, some gesture, some motion.

Eventually, his superiors assigned him a complex algorithm relating to the life expectancies of actuaries. At his funeral, he was recalled as a quiet, unassuming colleague and neighbor, pleasant, perhaps a bit melancholy, stylish in his way. He had admired good wine and some, but not all, classical music. His tombstone (engraved at the company’s expense) featured brief testimonials from those who had known him best—in lieu of his name, which the engraver could not reproduce. The tools broke when she tried, she explained, perplexed and more than a little ashamed.

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