Interviewed by Rachel Wild

Read Jacob Schrodt’s nonfiction piece, Elysium

Rachel: Your piece is an affecting exploration of the fear of death through the eyes of children. Can you remember being a child and finding out about death?

Jacob: I don’t remember finding out about death, though it was something I must have learned about from an early age. I grew up evangelical and prayed for salvation when I was eight. From there I became more and more fixated on the topic, especially in adolescence. Preachers and scripture told me to “fear not” because death was not the end but merely a transition into a higher, more perfect reality where I would exist for eternity. But it was exactly this—the eternity part—that haunted me more than anything. (I was no longer afraid of hell because I didn’t think I was going there!) The idea of living on forever and ever in heaven (Will we be singing the entire time?) just never gave me comfort. My current belief about what comes after death (beyond the most obvious answer being “I don’t know”) is hinted at in the essay’s penultimate paragraph.

I love the idea of instilling an appreciation and knowledge of music in your children from an early age. What artists have made the most lasting impressions on them, thus far, and why do you think that is?

Maybe Beethoven because of how obnoxious I’ve been about playing his music for them. (There’s a lot to cover!) Also because of how ubiquitous his music has become, appearing in commercials or episodes of their favorite TV show, Bluey, or as preset songs programmed into their toy Casio keyboard. But I hope that all of the musicians mentioned in the essay have made some sort of impression on them. It’s fun whenever they naturally pick up on the things that make an artist so special. Listening to Bob Dylan, they will often repeat back the words and try to make sense of the seemingly nonsensical lyrics. Or there was this one morning—I was serving breakfast and singing with atrocious tone and pitch and ultimately annoying anyone within earshot. Feigning shock when the twins asked me to stop, I said, “But I’m the greatest singer of all time.” My son responded: “You’re not Whitney Houston.” Truthfully though, they are still only six years old and probably enjoy silly kid’s music more than anything. Lately, songs about Baby Yoda or lazy harp seals receive way more play than any Beethoven symphony.

Your twins come across as very switched on, noticing the world around them and reacting to it. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this?

I’ll start with the disadvantage. The world can be scary. (Shout out to the glass-half-full peeps—yes, the world can also be awe-inspiring and beautiful.) Even someone with a humancentric worldview can still recognize that the universe seems to be extremely hostile toward life. Something like 99% of all species that ever lived on earth are now extinct? Yay! So, yeah, there’s plenty to get nervous about. My children dealt with a lot of anxiety after learning about tornados (a real threat here in Middle Tennessee). But their questions and concerns always open the door for conversation. And maybe this is the advantage—an opportunity for my wife and me to share in their fears and their curiosity, to confirm that any topic is open for discussion and further exploration, and to show that knowledge can make the world feel a little less scary.

In the ever-changing landscape of childhood, what do you think the ramifications of the Covid pandemic—if any—will be on your children?

We were fortunate compared to many. My wife and I continued much of our employment from home. The twins eventually returned to school with minimal disruption. We spent a lot of time together as a family and fell more in love with being outdoors. Again, considering the amount of suffering endured this past year, the effects on my children could have been much, much worse. And yet this is the world in which they will grow up. A world where factory farming will most certainly lead to future pandemics. A world where viruses reveal the continued racial and economic inequality in our country. I think the ramifications for my children (and for me) will come as a choice—to either ignore these issues or to take part in finding solutions.