Finished Stephen King’s The Stand today and, even at 1152 pages, I was sad when I read the last sentence, as if a friend had left town for good. King’s tale of a plague-stricken America is a sprawling, flashy, and addictive meditation on whether modern civilization is worth the effort—and if we’re brave enough to choose a different path. But most of all, it’s a story about broken people trying to keep their sanity in the face of the unthinkable, and it certainly resonates in 2020. Every chapter offers a cliffhanger, and it brought me back to teenage nights of staying awake into the small hours with a flashlight, promising myself just one more chapter. I’d nearly forgotten that reading can be so much fun.

There’s a line that keeps turning in my mind, an epitaph scrawled by a character on the wall of a prison cell:

I am not the potter, not the potter’s wheel, but the potter’s clay; is not the value of the shape attained as dependent upon the intrinsic worth of the clay as upon the wheel and the master’s skill?

Reading it again, I admire the implication of personal responsibility twinned with otherworldly detachment. Seems like a good strategy in these days of factions and anxiety. My knowledge of religion is patchy, but I wonder if King pulled this idea from an ancient text, maybe the karmic wheels of Hinduism or some Neoplatonic notion of becoming a channel. The closest reference point I could find comes from the Old Testament:

The word came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, “Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in mine hand.”

Then the Lord talks about punishing disobedient nations. But for a moment, the Bible seemed remarkably zen. Also: it’s depressing how many Christian websites want your credit card information.