The Room Brian Moore Essay

Ann Leary's latest book is The Good House.

I tend to read funny books when I'm happy and tragic books when I'm sad, but when I'm truly depressed, when I want to be fully immersed in the horrible splendor of the most desperate human suffering, I always return to Brian Moore's The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne.

Judith Hearne, a middle-aged Irish spinster and the protagonist, is an alcoholic. But this novel isn't really about drinking. No, this book is about the underlying conditions of alcoholism — fear, shame and a desperate need to love and be loved. It's a short book about a lifetime of longing.

Moore uses brilliant economy in his writing; it's as if words are as scarce and precious as sunshine in this gloomy section of postwar Belfast, and by the end of the second paragraph, we know almost everything we need to know about poor Miss Hearne. She has moved to a small room in the latest of a series of cheap lodging houses and is unpackingand arranging her most cherished possessions — a silver-framed photograph of her deceased aunt and a cheap oleograph image of the Sacred Heart.

She carefully places the renderings of these, her harshest critics, where she can see them, and she is always aware of their presence. Aunt D'Arcy's photo is placed on the mantle. "The photograph eyes were stern and questioning, sharing Miss Hearne's own misgivings about the condition of the bedsprings, the shabbiness of the furniture and the rundown part of Belfast in which the room is situated." The image of Jesus is placed at the head of her bed. "His fingers raised in benediction, His eyes kindly yet accusing." Is it any wonder that, alone in her room, she awkwardly squirms into her clothes beneath the modest cover of her nightgown, never, in all her adult life, exposing her naked flesh before those dead, reproachful eyes?

Ann Leary is also the author of Outtakes from a Marriage. Scott M. Lacey hide caption

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Scott M. Lacey

As Miss Hearne, who was raised by her well-to-do aunt but is now poor, politely attempts to settle in among her rather crude and in some cases monstrous fellow lodgers, her awkwardness is almost too painful to witness. When she finds herself at a loss for words, she seeks comfort by peering down at her long, pointed shoes, which have little buttons on them, and the buttons amuse her by "winking up at her like wise little friendly eyes. Little shoe eyes, always there."

Her painful awareness that others are entirely uninterested in her is heartbreaking, but it is impossible not to love Miss Hearne for her quiet determination to press on, her meek refusal to abandon her dream that despite her advancing age and plain looks, an opportunity for love might still come her way.

After a brief breakfast conversation with a fellow lodger, Mr. Madden, just back from America, Miss Hearne is launched into this reverie about his returning home to her, to their home — sometime in the future, when she would be his wife: "He put his dressing-gown on and sat down in his armchair and she went to him prettily, sat on his knee while he told her how things had gone that day. And he kissed her. Or, enraged about some silly thing she had done, he struck out with his great fist and sent her reeling, the brute. But, contrite afterwards, he sank to his knees and begged forgiveness."

Yes, I cringe each time I read this and other passages — but I still want to read it again. I know what's going to happen to poor Miss Hearne, but it's like picking up a drink after swearing it off. It just tastes so good when it's going down.

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17-year-old Brian Moore had only a short time to write something for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting. It was his turn to lead the discussion so he sat down and wrote. He showed the essay, titled “The Room” to his mother, Beth, before he headed out the door. “I wowed ’em.” he later told his father, Bruce. “It’s a killer, It’s the bomb. It’s the best thing I ever wrote.” It also was the last.

Brian’s parents had forgotten about the essay when a cousin found it while cleaning out the teenager’s locker at Teary Valley High School. Brian had been dead only hours, but his parents desperately wanted
every piece of his life near them crepe paper that had adorned his locker during his senior football season, notes from classmates and teachers, his homework.

Only two months before, he had handwritten the essay about encountering Jesus in a file room full of cards detailing every moment of the teen’s life. But it was only after Brian’s death that Beth and Bruce Moore realized that their son had described his view of heaven. “It makes such an impact that people want to share it. You feel like you are there.” said.

Brian Moore died May 27, 1997, — the day after Memorial Day. He was driving home from a friend’s house when his car went off Bulen-Pierce Road in Pickaway County and struck a utility pole. He emerged from the wreck unharmed but stepped on a downed power line and was electrocuted.

Brian seemed to excel at everything he did. He was an honor student. He told his parents he loved them “a
hundred times a day,” said. He was a star wide receiver for the Teary’s Valley Football team and had earned a four-year scholarship to Capital University in Columbus because of his athletic and academic abilities. He took it upon himself to learn how to help a fellow student who used a wheelchair at school. During one homecoming ceremony, Brian walked on his tiptoes so that the girl he was escorting wouldn’t be embarrassed about being taller than him.

He adored his kid brother, Bruce, now 14. He often escorted his grandmother, Evelyn Moore, who lives in
Columbus, to church. “I always called him the “deep thinker”, Evelyn said of her eldest grandson.

Two years after his death, his family still struggles to understand why Brian was taken from them. They find
comfort at the cemetery where Brian is buried, just a few blocks from their home. They visit daily. A candle
and dozens of silk and real flowers keep vigil over the gravesite.

The Moore’s framed a copy of Brian’s essay and hung it among the family portraits in the living room. “I
think God used him to make a point. I think we were meant to find it and make something out of it,” said of the essay. She and her husband want to share their son’s vision of life after death. “I’m happy for Brian. I know he’s in heaven. I know I’ll see him again someday.” said. “It just hurts so bad now.”

The Room…

In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in the room. There were no distinguishing
features except for the one wall covered with small index card files. They were like the ones in libraries that list titles by author or subject in alphabetical order. But these files, which stretched from floor to ceiling and seemingly endless in either direction, had very different headings.

As I drew near the wall of files, the first to catch my attention was one that read “Brian Moore.” I opened it and began flipping through the cards. I quickly shut it, shocked to realize that I recognized the names written on each one.

And then without being told, I knew exactly where I was. This lifeless room with its small files was a crude catalog system for my life. Here were written the actions of my every moment, big and small, in a detail my memory couldn’t match. A sense of wonder and curiosity, coupled with horror, stirred within me as I began randomly opening files and exploring their content. Some brought joy and sweet memories; others a sense of shame and regret so intense that I would look over my shoulder to see if anyone was watching.

A file named “Friends” was next to one marked “Friends I have betrayed.” The titles ranged from the mundane to the outright weird. “Books I Have Read,” “Lies I Have Told,” “Comfort I have Given,” “Jokes I
Have Laughed at.” Some were almost hilarious in their exactness: “Things I’ve yelled at my brothers.” Others I couldn’t laugh at: “Things I Have Done in My Anger,” “Things I Have Muttered Under My Breath at My Parents.”

I never ceased to be surprised by the contents. Often there were many more cards than I expected. Sometimes fewer than I hoped. I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the life I had lived. Could it be possible that I had the time in my years to write each of these thousands or even millions of cards? But each card confirmed this truth. Each was written in my own handwriting. Each signed with my signature.

When I pulled out the file marked “Songs I have listened to,” I realized the files grew to contain their contents. The cards were packed tightly, and yet after two or three yards, I hadn’t found the end of the file. I shut it, shamed, not so much by the quality of music but more by the vast time I knew that file represented.

When I came to a file marked “Lustful Thoughts,” I felt a chill run through my body. I pulled the file out only an inch, not willing to test its size, and drew out a card. I shuddered at its detailed content. I felt sick to think that such a moment had been recorded. An almost animal rage broke on me. One thought dominated my mind: “No one must ever see these cards! No one must ever see this room! I have to destroy them!”

In insane frenzy I yanked the file out. Its size didn’t matter now. I had to empty it and burn the cards. But as I took it at one end and began pounding it on the floor, I could not dislodge a single card. I became desperate and pulled out a card, only to find it as strong as steel when I tried to tear it. Defeated and utterly helpless, I returned the file to its slot. Leaning my forehead against the wall, I let out a long, self-pitying sigh.

And then I saw it. The title bore “People I Have Shared the Gospel With.” The handle was brighter than those around it, newer, almost unused. I pulled on its handle and a small box not more than three inches long fell into my hands. I could count the cards it contained on one hand. And then the tears came. I began to weep.

Sobs so deep that they hurt. They started in my stomach and shook through me. I fell on my knees and
cried. I cried out of shame, from the overwhelming shame of it all. The rows of file shelves swirled in my tear-filled eyes. No one must ever, ever know of this room. I must lock it up and hide the key. But then as I pushed away the tears, I saw Him. No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus. I watched helplessly as He began to open the files and read the cards. I couldn’t bear to watch His response. And in the moments I could bring myself to look at His face, I saw a sorrow deeper than my own. He seemed to
intuitively go to the worst boxes. Why did He have to read every one? Finally He turned and looked at me
from across the room. He looked at me with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn’t anger me. I dropped my head, covered my face with my hands and began to cry again.

He walked over and put His arm around me. He could have said so many things. But He didn’t say a word. He just cried with me. Then He got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over mine on each card. “No!” I shouted rushing to Him. All I could find to say was “No, no, ” as I pulled the card from Him. His name shouldn’t be on these cards. But there it was, written in red so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus covered mine. It was written with His blood.

He gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and began to sign the cards.

I don’t think I’ll ever understand how He did it so quickly, but the next instant it seemed I heard Him close the last file and walk back to my side. He placed His hand on my shoulder and said, “It is finished.” I stood up, and He led me out of the room. There was no lock on its door. There were still cards to be written.


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