The Life of B.

During the recent elections, the Obama campaign developed a series of vignettes involving a cartoon figure named “Julia,” showing the ways government would help her at every point in her life. We thought that Catholics ought to be ready, should the possibility arise at some far distant future date, to be equally clear about what they see as a desirable alternative. So here is a sketch of one such possible life, the life of “Beatrice,” hereafter B.

Despite already having an older brother Benedict, B. is actually born because her Catholic parents believe in God’s words in Genesis: “be fruitful and multiply.” And the One Child Policy legislation is stalled in Congress owing to a split between environmentalists worried about the earth’s “carrying capacity” and ruling party strategists worried about a shrinking political base. For years afterwards on her birthday, B. and her multiple siblings giggle when their mother tells how a very earnest nurse in the formerly Catholic maternity hospital gave her a copy of Bill McKibben’s Maybe One as she was taking B. home.

B. is read to and taught by her parents until age five, after which she and her brother are home-schooled, helped by an informal association of neighborhood women, some with advanced degrees in languages, science, or math. Julia, who lives next door, teases B. and Benedict because she attended Head Start with most of the other kids in town, while the “Bs” had to stay home. Still, they’re friends. B. and Benedict often read children’s chapter books to Julia until she learns to read herself in third grade. After that, they only help her with the hard words.

At seventeen, B. receives the highest SAT score in town and faces a decision where to go to university. Julia’s choices are simpler. Like almost everyone else, she’s participated in Race to the Top and is prepared to move on seamlessly to State U. The curriculum there respects diversity and, therefore, sticks strictly to government mandated standards and educational outcomes – and qualifies for Federal dollars. After much prayer and thought, B. decides to study at a Catholic liberal arts college with an emphasis on Great Books.

Thanks to generous Pell Grants, Julia graduates owing only $40,000. She immediately finds a job with a large corporation that has an arrangement with State U. and begins paying back the Federal government, like a responsible citizen. B. has no debt at all because her liberal arts college kept costs low by not participating in various Federal aid programs. The money saved in not having “compliance officers” alone is said to have cut about a third off tuition. Her college also found generous private donors who agreed to match what B. herself earned to pay for educational expenses. At graduation, she spends a year teaching for a Catholic religious order at a school in Chichicastenango, Guatemala. About half of her colleagues are considering a religious vocation, and some enter the order. But B. decides, after much prayer and thought, that she wants to do something for America.

Back in the States, people she meets are shocked when she talks about her experiences and inform her that her work in Guatemala would not have met the rigorous standards set by the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. They also encourage her to study web design in order to take advantage of small-business startup loans available from the Federal government. “The alternative is the service sector, these days,” one of them warns. B. thinks about this until one day she reads a story by Evelyn Waugh, where a headmaster tells a classics teacher:

“Parents are not interested in producing the ‘complete man’ any more. They want to qualify their boys for jobs in the modern world. You can hardly blame them, can you?”

“Oh yes,” said Scott-King, “I can and do. . . .I think it would be very wicked indeed to do anything to fit a boy for the modern world.”

The headmaster calls this shortsighted. Scott-King retorts, “I think it the most long-sided view it is possible to take.” That hits B. like a thunderbolt and she spends the next forty years teaching Latin.

But not before meeting Francis X. in a graduate Latin course. At first they are drawn together because they seemed to enjoy the same poets and philosophers, even the very same passages. Afterwards, they find they have very similar backgrounds and are in complete agreement about the kind of family life they would like to live.

They marry, have multiple children (the ruling party is still divided). Francis X. worked part-time at a plant nursery while he was studying Latin and is offered a chance to buy the business when his childless boss retires. He not only loves the smell of the earth and vegetal matter each morning, but to his own amazement, he finds he enjoys and has a knack for business. His business flourishes and he gains a faithful clientele amused by his casually saying things like, “Here’s a perfect ilex aquafolium for you.” 

B. and Francis X. manage to raise a family according to their own lights, support a parish, and donate to local youth activities and poor relief. They are not entirely successful – the culture is powerful – in warding off the false lures of success and security. Some of their children take less than ideal paths. But as they near the end, they look back over the course of their lives with general satisfaction.

They retire. Ill-health forces them into one of the clandestine Catholic nursing homes that went underground because of the Elderly Comprehensive Affordable Care Act – known colloquially as ECACA or the “Sayonara System.” This was hailed at its passage, in the words of one Federal brochure, as guaranteeing “the responsible social choice of a dignified exit from this life.”   

B. and Francis X. die, a few years earlier than average. But their children and friends remember them with deep affection and gratitude.


Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of The Catholic Thing and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent books are Columbus and the Crisis of the West and A Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century.