For the past month any free time I’ve had apart from class preparation has gone toward helping my daughter get ready for a presentation at the 4-H County Fair. Now, the morning after the close of the fair, when prize dairy cattle and model rockets and treasured family pets have all been transported back home, I am left with that sense of purposelessness that follows a period of intense preparation. Four minutes of public exposure translated into hours, days of often emotional planning, trouble-shooting, and dreaming. Although I grew up in a small town, farm life is as foreign to me as Cambodian politics. When I’m at the fair, however, spending long hours wandering amid animals, and go-carts, and community college recruiters, somehow being outdoors feels like being truly human. Perhaps it helps that the local 4-H is part of the Rutgers Cooperative Extension. My regnant, reluctant employer channels enormous resources into helping the youth of the state transform into the future.
One of the vendors at the fair was the Gideons. Each year they have a table piled high with cheap New Testaments bound in flimsy plastic made to resemble jaunty orange leather, and the unwary soon find themselves with the Gospels and Paul tucked away in their bulging samples bags. It is curious that the Hebrew Bible, apart from the Psalms, is so dispensable in the cause of conversion or enlightenment. The motivation of the Gideon movement, ironically, draws on the book of Judges for its very label. An occupational hazard, I already have more Bibles than any decent human should, nevertheless, the Gideons always wish me to take on one more, if only a truncated version.
While wandering back to my daughter’s club tent after a trip to the bustling food tent, I passed one of the numerous trash receptacles mandated by any such large gathering of people in a disposable culture. Glancing in for a place to toss my greasy napkin, I spied a Gideon Bible, its optimistic orange cover partially smudged by cotton candy and other ambiguous substances. The tableau gave me a moment of reflection amid the noise, energy, and enticing aromas of church and firehouse cuisine. To someone, the Bible was that extra bit of unwanted, cheap, fair promotional junk. Although not a Bible-worshiper, the image left me just a little sad. Those weeks of intense preparation for my daughter’s presentation are brief compared to the decades I’ve spent trying unsuccessfully to cobble a teaching career out of the Bible. Sometimes symbolism can be cruel and ironic all at the same time.