Eternal Returns

Nightmares with the Bible has been submitted.  Those of you who read this blog regularly know that it is my fourth book and that it is a kind of sequel to Holy Horror.  Nightmares looks specifically at demons.  I was inspired—if that’s the right word to use for it—to write the book because the chapter on possession movies in Holy Horror was clearly overflowing.  Not only that, but at the time I started writing the book not many resources were out there on demons.  Almost nothing, certainly, that asked the big question of what they are.  To answer that we need to go to the movies.  People get their information from popular culture, especially when it comes to trying to understand the arcane and even esoteric field of theology.

Movies, studies have shown, often participate in the reality our brains conjure.  Back when Reagan was president—is it even possible to believe those seem like halcyon days compared to these?—he was caught occasionally citing events from movies as historical realities.  We all do it from time to time, but then, most of us, if pressed, can tease movies apart from facts.  Church attendance has been going down for some time (and on Zoom you can tune in and tune out without having to “stay in the room”), and so people have to get their information on demons somewhere else.  Reality television and the internet also play into this as well, of course, but Nightmares sticks with movies because I’ve only got so much time.  The message is pretty straightforward though, we must consider where people get their information.

After you submit a large project, if you’re anything like me, you’re mentally exhausted for a while.  I’ve been working on this book for nearly five years—I started it before Holy Horror was submitted to McFarland.  I had already begun work on my next book, but I yet have to decide which one it will be.  I have several going at any one time.  Hopefully this next one won’t be coming out with an academic publisher.  I’d like it to be priced in the realm where individual buyers might consider it worth the investment.  I know from experience that even books just over twenty dollars are a stretch for most people, especially if they’re on academic topics.  Nightmares will come back, I know.  There will be proofs and indexing and all kinds of further work to be done.  I’m hoping that by that point I will have the next book nearly done.  If only I could decide which one it will be.

Mail In

As the Republican war on democracy continues, I’m wondering about mail-in ballots.  The good news is that I live in a state where such a thing is possible—there are just enough Democrats left to ensure that people can vote—but when you read of close races, particularly in Republican districts, disregarding mailed in ballots you have to wonder.  A few weeks ago on national television Trump said that if everyone was allowed to vote Republicans would never be elected.  It seems the alternative—cheating, that is—should be the game plan for retaining power.  We tend to think of such things being employed by the many pseudo-democracies of the world.  And I wonder who steps in to intervene when officials cheat.

Many world governments are dictatorships.  The GOP would like that to be the case in the United States.  Perpetual power where you don’t have to worry about women or African-Americans getting elected.  It’s the rule not of law, but of complete and utter corruption.  It’s rule that permits 100,000 people to die rather than being bothered to try to put safeguards into place.  It’s rule that places the economy over the lives of those it’s supposed to benefit.  No wonder it can’t be legitimately elected!  Those of us who’ve been trained in morality, and who’ve even been schooled in it at work are told we should obey our leaders.  Even if they wish to kill us, I suppose.

So I’m sitting here wondering if I’m throwing away our one chance to ousting such dangerous ideas from Washington if I send in my ballot by mail.  The party in power has openly admitted that it cheats to win.  On the other hand, there are plenty of sick people out there, particularly in these parts.  Do I want to stand in line with them, hoping they’ll keep six feet away?  Are you allowed to vote wearing a mask and gloves?  Where is the Lone Ranger when you need him most?  My grandmother had a saying, “Where was Moses when the lights went out?”  I often wondered what it meant.  Said when someone walked into a room just too late to help, it seems to imply that even a miracle worker does no good if s/he arrives too late.  Even Moses wore a mask when he came down the mountain with his face all shiny.  But then, he didn’t have to worry about those in power cheating, and the orders came, so they believed, directly from above.

Serenity

A few weeks back I posted about a dove that had built a nest on an unused planter on our front porch.  I’d read that mourning doves choosing your house was a sign of peace and tranquility.  Each morning I went out for a jog, the dove’s little head would pop up and she would eyeball me.  There was no fear in that gaze, but rather serenity.  She was sitting on her eggs and knew I wouldn’t hurt her.  Several days ago she was gone from the nest.  We were out for a family walk when my daughter noticed.  We crept up to see two good-sized chicks sitting there instead.  Within days we had a couple of young birds flapping around the yard, trying to learn how to live on their own.

I missed the dove, though.  The nest was empty.  I felt less bad about stepping into somebody else’s bedroom every time I went out the door, but still, I’d grown accustomed to having her—them—on the porch.  This week when I again went out for a jog (the jogging never ends), she was back.  She looked at me with a knowing stare.  Ours was apparently a safe house.  Mourning doves, I read on the Cornell University ornithology site, can raise a brood of two in six to eight weeks.  From the laying of eggs to abandoning the nest is only a two-month proposition.  The website then went on to say that doves will sometimes return to their previous nest.  This one obviously had.

Peace is a rare commodity these days.  Stress seems to be our daily matrix.  How long will our jobs hold out?  Will opening up the economy lead to a second wave?  (Likely yes.)  Will we be able to make mortgage payments if our companies can’t weather the storm?  Who really owns this house anyway?  There is a serenity to relinquishing anxieties of ownership.  A kind of freedom to belonging to a world that will, at least in some nations, help you make it through a crisis intact.  There’s a wisdom to the animal world that we too often ignore.  We can find peace if we look for it.  One cold morning I found one of the chicks sheltering on the leeward side of our fence.  I took her some sunflower seeds since she looked so miserable.  I don’t know if she ate them or not, but I knew that we humans had benefited from having her under our roof.  Such gifts are worth more than might be imagined.

Too Close?

What with the US Navy admitting that UFOs are real and all, it seemed like a good idea to watch Close Encounters of the Third Kind over the holiday weekend.  Like many of my generation I saw it in a theater—itself kind of a distant memory—back in 1977.  I’m not sure why it’s been on my mind lately, but since it’s a long movie it takes a long weekend to accomodate it.  As we settled down to classic Spielberg scenes—lots of khaki and crowds and desert locations—it was a reminder of how silly we all looked in the seventies.  (What were we thinking?)  Other than that the film has aged pretty well.  The plot, although not action-packed, is probing and has several moments that seem to have inspired Poltergeist.  What made the film blog-worthy at this time, however, was the wearing of masks.

When Roy Neary and Jillian Guiler arrive at Devil’s Tower the governmental cover-up is in full play.  A nerve-gas leak—and who can check out whether such a thing really happened?—has a mask-wearing restriction in place.  I wondered where one could get a gas mask today when the crowd scenes of the pandemic won’t even leave a roll of toilet paper behind.  Checking for rubbing alcohol to make homemade hand sanitizer I found it selling for $300 per gallon on Amazon.  Where are we going to get a gas mask in circumstances such as these?  That particular scenario never really stood out to me before although I’ve seen the movie many times over the years.  Back when I was a student at Boston University the school tee-shirt worn by Barry Guiler was the interesting cultural context.

Films that survive the years take on different aspects over time.  Some suggest that a branch of the military admitting to the reality of UFOs during a pandemic was intended to underplay the event.  Others have argued that a similar release of information many months ago received similar lackluster interest.  If there are aliens out there, I have trouble imagining that they’d travel all this way for a synthesizer concert at a national monument that received a major uptick in visitors due to the movie’s release.  Maybe we love our fictional aliens more than the possibility of meeting those that seem to be vexing our navy?  The movie was the right choice for the circumstances, it seems to me.  Some things about the seventies are worth revisiting from time to time.  Strangely, in retrospect, life seemed simpler then.

Somebody Elsism

It’s 5:30 a.m. the day after Memorial Day and I’m out jogging.  I go out at this time because there’s not much likelihood of encountering many other people.  Oh, I know others are awake, but few are out on the trail at this time of morning.  I’m made a bit sad by the amount of trash I see along the path.  Yesterday turned into a pleasant afternoon and I suspect lots of people were out here then.  I even find the remains of some kind of homemade fireworks launcher, reminding me that it was supposed to be a patriotic holiday.  I’ve seen an uptick in Trump signs around here and I wonder if it has anything to do with the rampant somebody elsism that I see strewn along my jogging trail.

Somebody elsism is the attitude that I can make a mess of things and let somebody else deal with it.  (It’s my right as an American!)  Maybe you’ve seen it too.  The doggie doo-doo bags that are filled and left beside the trail for somebody else to pick up and dispose of.  It’s my right to own a dog, and although I may feel compelled to bag its leavings, somebody else will have to throw it away.  The idea’s pretty rampant.  I’ve even found such things on my front sidewalk.  I suspect this is a chapter in the myth of rugged individualism.  I have a right, but somebody else has the duty.

Life itself is like this, I guess.  We have to leave wills to help those left behind sort out the various messes we’ve made in our lifetimes.  Still, the Trump administration has all been about somebody elsism.  There is no such thing as controlled chaos.  The coronavirus should have taught us that, if we hadn’t figured it out long before.  Living together with other people requires a commitment to some basic things.  As much as I dislike yardwork, you can’t own a house and let the plants take over.  Your wild growth will seed somebody else’s weeds.  I’d rather be sitting inside reading.  It’s a holiday weekend and I have so little time to read during the week.  Won’t somebody else take care of the grass that has been loving the rain and warmer temperatures?  If only.  So I’m out jogging early, but I have to wait until it’s light.  There are so many things you can’t see before twilight kicks in, and unless somebody else picks them up I’m bound to step in them.

Remembering Cautiously

Memorial Day has a special poignancy when thousands of people are needlessly dying from a disease.  As the unofficial kick-off to summer, the holiday also marks the loosening of restrictions (most likely prematurely) and we can only wonder how many more will die when our usual carelessness resumes.  I’m not alone, I suspect, in hoping that this crisis will have brought some permanent changes, such as thinking about others.  It’s almost impossible to hope that such consciousness will rise to the level of government, of course, but if we the roots of the grass care for one another won’t that care naturally grow to a national level?  Americans have long loved the myth of rugged individualism.  There may have been a day when that was plausible, but we are now so interconnected that anyone considered successful has become so only because of considerable support of others.

This holiday is all about remembering.  Unfortunately remembering our war dead hasn’t done much to prevent wars.  If they’re not the acting out of our fears (as every belligerence since World War II seems to have been) then what are they?  Phobias of communists, terrorists, and assorted “others” lead us into mass killing, often for economic gain.  What if we were to put those vast military resources toward fighting a deadly disease?  What if we had a national will to take care of our people rather than to enrich ourselves?  Wouldn’t we be all the richer for it?  Instead we face more needless deaths, more people to remember on the next Memorial Day.  Maybe the sun will be shining then.

Those of us non-essential workers who’ve nevertheless been working remotely these past two-and-a-half months have a day off today.  Many will want to gather, but we know it’s not really a good idea.  We know the way infection works.  We have no battle plan against COVID-19.  We’re chomping at the bit for economic vitality, forgetting that those who are on the front lines are continuing to get sick.  It’s strange to have a holiday under such circumstances.  The warmer weather invites us outdoors while the plague drives us inside.  There’s a place for bravery, but when bravado masks itself with foolishness there will be a price to pay.  It’s Memorial Day and we can honor our dead by not rushing to join them with unreflective premature relaxing of safety measures.  Let’s stay safe this holiday by remembering what we’ve learned.

Nothing To Eat

Some stories are unsettling to the point of spirituality.  That’s my impression of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian.  My wife wanted my opinion of it and when she used the adjective “Kafkaesque” I knew I had to comply.  The comparison is eerie in that Franz Kafka essentially starved to death because no way could be found to feed him with his underlying medical condition.  The Vegetarian shifts focus in its three parts, but the protagonist, Yeong-hye, is a young woman who finds her life run by other people in her family after she decides to become a vegetarian (in actual fact, a vegan).  Basing her decision on disturbing dreams she has, those in her Korean culture cannot accept vegetarianism and attempt, by various forms of coercion, to change her decision.  Throughout the account, Yeong-hye becomes silent—we’re never given her point of view—but those around her can’t accept her decision.

This is a challenging book to read, given my own personal history, but after scratching my head a bit when I finished it I came to reflect on this spiritual side of it.  My own vegetarianism was an ethical decision.  I realize that I can’t and shouldn’t impose my ethics on others, but I’ve not had much resistance from others (apart from colleagues who occasionally make reservations at eateries with no hint of the concept).  Likewise, I became a vegan a few years back based on further reflection of an ethical kind.  This is actually a spiritual practice.  I don’t often express it in those terms, but clearly it is.  In the novel when Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law tries to direct her life, he takes her to a Buddhist restaurant because he knows nowhere else to find vegetarian offerings.

Yeong-hye believes herself to be becoming a plant, and that leads to the next logical step in this progression of thinking.  Eating is, or at least can be, a spiritual exercise.  Many religions advocate fasts of various durations to derive the benefits to the soul.  Daily life is a matter of routine for many, often based around our culturally driven mandate of three meals a day.  I’m not alone at working through lunch while trying to get more done at my job.  By the final meal of the day I find myself exhausted.  It’s about more than food.  This strange little book has put me into a reverie about the ethics of eating.  I don’t know if Han Kang is a vegetarian or not, but she does understand the soul of one.

Ancient Technology

The pandemic, like any news event these days, has generated a whole new vocabulary.  I had to look up PPE on Google (Personal Protective Equipment, if you live in a cave like me).  I want to help with the effort to curb the coronavirus, but being a non-essential worker, I’m not sure what I can do.  Then my wife found an organization making PPEs.  In this case the equipment they make is face-shields.  And they were looking for, believe it or not, transparency paper.  Well, it’s really not paper, but acetate.  Although we’ve had to move several times since being pushed out of the Nashotah House nest, when I went looking for that box of transparency film that I paid for out of my own pocket in the PPPD (Pre-PowerPoint Days), I found it without too much trouble.  We still had 25 unused sheets left, and we donated them to the cause.

Nashotah House used to have one semester of required Hebrew and one semester of Greek.  Since the curriculum was highly regulated in those days, there was no opportunity for further courses in either language.  If you teach Hebrew you know that no textbook assumes just fourteen to sixteen weeks to learn it.  I quickly gave up using textbooks and had students begin translating as I walked them through it.  I had to use an overhead projector since Nashotah had no internet connection until the turn of the millennium.  It was such a small account that the cable companies didn’t want to go all the way out there to lay the physical lines then necessary for connectivity.  So I bought transparency film.  I even learned how to run it through my printer which, thankfully, wasn’t dot-matrix.

Over the years I bought quite a few boxes of the stuff.  Then the Enlightenment.  Let there be PowerPoint.  I converted all my teaching to PowerPoint slides while others made fun.  When my services were no longer required, I had to purchase a projector so that I could continue to teach on a freelance basis.  But I kept that expensive transparency film.  Now it is out there covering faces, and hopefully, unlike seminary education, saving lives.  As an erstwhile teacher of Greek and Hebrew I’ve found myself having to make some flashcards to learn the new words the crisis is giving us.  It’s a good thing, then, that when I was looking for transparency film I also found a couple packs of unopened index cards.  Sometimes antiquated pedagogy is commodious after all.

WHO Knew 2?

According to Mark Twain’s taxonomy there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.  Right now about all we have are in the last of these categories under the most statistical administration in history.  Still, if we want to get out of the house once in a while we need to look for some facts.  I keep coming back to the World Health Organization daily situation report here.  That’s because I trust WHO.  It’s an ethical, international organization not in the rear pocket of the self-proclaimed genius that puts that pocket beneath his holy posterior in the Oval Office.  In fact, just this week said genius threatened to make the United States’ contributions to WHO disappear forever unless they met his demands.  China, on the other hand, upped their contribution by a couple billion.

I don’t have the time, or certainly the numerical capacity, to read the entire report daily.  Nor to internalize all the vast numbers of cases and deaths worldwide.  It’s too much.  Still, I stop to check the places I know, including the one in which I happen to live.  There may be a time delay here since I check the reports early, and since the data from which I’m drawing came from yesterday, but still I have to wonder.  According to the stats provided by our grand ole US of A, there were no new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.  We went from 1,477,459 to zero in one day.  Actually, the day before (Tuesday) we reported 31,967 cases.  Don’t believe me?  Go ahead and check; I’ll wait.

Not born yesterday (not by a long shot), I know that numbers sometimes have to be adjusted.  I receive a salary, so I know that well.  At the same time, we have a statistician-in-chief that had only days before threatened—blackmail is what we used to call it, if the other party had actually done something wrong, which doesn’t really apply—to remove all funding in saecula saeculorum.  Can I get an amen?  Many of us, perhaps even most, learned early in life that you don’t get what you want by throwing a tantrum.  Of course, most of us didn’t grow up filthy rich.  Most of us can’t afford to buy the presidency.  Heck, most of us have trouble making the rent or mortgage.  So we have this great statistical anomaly whereby one spoiled kid says if you don’t play by my ruse, I’ll take my marbles and go home.  And I’m not lying.

Cold Psalms

“Ne’er cast a cloot ’til May be oot,” as we heard it in Scotland, was a warning, loosely translated, to “never take off a layer until May is over.”  That bit of lowland wisdom fits this spring pretty well.  As I was donning full winter regalia for my jog this morning my thoughts naturally turned toward the weather.  Memory distorts things, of course, but I keep coming back to my youth and thinking late May used to be reliably warm.  There were chilly mornings from time to time, but yesterday held a touch of November in the air, as if the world somehow switched axes.  Even the usual animals I see—deer, groundhogs, ducks, and the occasional fox or raccoon—all seemed to be sleeping in this morning.  Who could blame them?

I postulated in Weathering the Psalms that the weather is somehow connected in our psyches with the divine.  It’s God’s big blue heaven, after all.  The weather is something we can only control in a bad way, though.  While other people are fixated on surviving the coronavirus outbreak Trump has been quietly (although well documentedly) been relaxing environmental regulations so that when this is all over the beleaguered wealthy will have further income streams.  And so global warming gets a head start on opening the doors of industry again.  Those older than even me tell me the weather is far wilder than when they were young.  Perhaps it’s just the Anthropocene hadn’t had time to settle in yet.  Or maybe environmental degradation is spitting in the face of God.

First light is beautiful.  I’ve been awakening before the sun for so many years now that I can’t recall what it’s like to stumble out of bed when blue begins edging the curtains.  When it does I pull on my sneakers and head out the door.  It’s easy to pretend out here that everything’s okay.  When I do spot a deer, statue-still until I’m mere feet away, I wonder what life was like before the koyaanisqatsi of industrialization.  When our human impact on the earth was humble, like that of our fellow animals.  Now the weather has turned.  It’s chilly out here this morning.  I’m wearing a stocking cap and gloves and I’m watching my own breath forming the only clouds in the sky.  The weather is a kind of psalm, I guess.  I should pull on another clout and consider the wisdom of my elders.

Qohelet’s Washcloset

Cast your bread upon the water, as Ecclesiastes says, and it will come back to you when you need it.  Since bread is a common slang word for money, and since the toilet paper has arrived that I ordered two months ago, I see the truth in this.  Paper spent for paper to use.  While I’m pretty sure that’s not what old Qohelet exactly had in mind, it is the reality in which we live.  There are experts that tell us the toilet paper shortage isn’t due to panic buying, but over eight weeks into this crisis and the shelves in Target and grocery stores still look like Mrs. Hubbard’s cupboards.  All those people working from home must need more fibre in their diets.  Or is it less?  I can never remember.  What other than bread satisfies?  Clearly toilet paper does.  And the fact that the nearest yeast, according to Siri, is in Tennessee, clearly has nothing to do with panic buying.  Nothing at all.

People will go to any lengths to prove that we’re rational beings.  We don’t like the image of being the panicky herd beasts we are.  When I first realized the crisis was hard on us, it was March 16.  That was my first grocery store trip where beans were as rare as moral Republicans and we still can’t find pasta or flour around here, even with stores stocking daily.  The announcements on the loudspeaker beg buyers to get only what they really need, and leave some for others.  The thing about panic, though, is that it’s anything but rational.  It’s based on emotion washed in the myth of scarcity.  It also shows what an unregulated economy soon devolves into.  I’m sure many people rationalize panic buying as “just until things get back to normal.”  Vanity, vanity, says Ecclesiastes.

Instead of the myth of scarcity we should believe in the myth of normalcy.  That should’ve ended, for any reasoning being, in November of 2016.  It isn’t normal for a prosperous nation to offer up someone who clearly has no governing ability for the most powerful office in the land.  Two months into the largest crisis we’ve seen since the days of FDR and the White House response has been the null set.  Meanwhile, I ordered toilet paper from abroad on March 16.  The ship slowly made its way across the Pacific from China where, I understand, toilet paper is abundant.  I’m just glad that there’s a rational explanation for all of this.

Still Evolving

Evolution, the 2001 movie, I mean, is good escapism.  Thinking back on 2001, instead of a space oddessy, another piece of news—another national crisis, in fact, dominated.  The film kind of slumbered in the background until we could sort out what it meant to live in, ironically, an unsafe world.  That’s precisely what the movie was about.  I wasn’t thinking that when I recently pulled it off the shelf.  I was simply wanting some fantasy to relieve the daily pressure of living in stress mode.  Besides, it has some of the best alien monsters you could hope for in a comedic setting.  Soon, however, the parallels began to appear.  A source of contamination from outside.  A growing threat.  A government that doesn’t know what to do and that can’t admit its mistakes.  It all seemed eerily familiar.  Dr. Allison Reed is even from the CDC.

Life isn’t constant crisis.  Funnily enough, when Democrats are in office there seem to be far fewer of these large-scale troubles.  “There will be signs,” I guess, “in the sun, moon, and stars.”  The thing about signs is that we’ve left the reading of them up to Fundamentalists.  And Fundamentalists don’t believe in evolution.  Or science.  Or modernity.  Idealizing medieval thinking does come with a price tag.  So I reach for the remote.  While the government has lots of money that it spends on its own volition, the crisis grows.  The alien menace is set to spread across the country.  Although beginning in a different geographical location, all that red on the map sure looked familiar to me.  How little has changed in the last two decades.  Evolution came out before smartphones even evolved.

Meanwhile, practically unnoticed, the U.S. Navy has been saying UFOs are real.  The story, muted and subdued—we’ve got more immediate concerns, such as getting reelected—has been on major reputable media.  When they land on the White House lawn we’ll ask the aliens if they have respirators and masks aboard.  Preferably the kind with face-shields.  In the movie the monsters are aliens.  They’re like an infection, and even hazmat suits can’t keep you safe.  The solution, of course, isn’t fire-power, but a good shampooing.  Now I know you still can’t go to the salon in lots of places, but washing up at home seems to be pretty good advice.  We put the movie on for simple escapism, but there’s no escaping the fact that we now live in an alien environment.

Straining Andromeda

As corona-life settles into just the way things are, I pulled out my copy of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.  I read this in high school, and, judging from the state of my copy I originally found it in the book bin at Goodwill.  I actually didn’t remember how the book ended, but some of the scenes—particularly the bizarre suicides that the virus first initiates—stayed with me.  I really felt no compunction to read it again until our daily reality was one of infection, protection, and fear.  In other words, the time was right.  I can say that I found Crichton’s confident prose a bit overblown at times, especially given the resolution of the crisis, which I will not give away here.  Some of the rest of you may want pandemic-themed reading, after all.

Something I had forgotten, and since this is near the beginning I don’t mind giving it away, is that the Andromeda Strain was brought to earth by military intentions to develop new biological weapons.  Although the death toll is nowhere near what that of COVID-19 has been, the potential lethality of the strain is what keeps the compressed five-day story tense.  That tension makes for quick reading, and it seems pretty clear that some of the ideas here have been used for other pandemic story-lines.  I’ll write about one of them later this week.  The extraterrestrial life form of Andromeda is cause for discussion in the novel, but the explanation is never clarified.  Crichton’s later novels improve on this score.

A clear point in the novel is that the government, although aware of and complicit in the experiment, lacked the foresight to successfully see it through.  Governments are only human, after all, and can function effectively only when those with superior abilities are in charge.  Looking out for oneself and exploiting others are not superior abilities.  We can see the result of this with our own, nonfictional pandemic.  Still, the novel does raise the specter of dabbling in things we don’t fully understand and can’t, in any real sense, control.  The thread of the plan being military in origin isn’t fully seen through, but it does raise the larger question of morals.  Some of us go through ethical training for our jobs.  Some of us have it often.  It’s obvious, however, that the real deficiency of governments tends to be their lack of ethics.  In this current day and age that qualifies you for the sobriquet of evangelical Christian.  And now we have our own strain to deal with.

Old Inspiration

Moving is a process that really has no end.  I suppose if working folks took a few weeks of staycation and really concentrated, getting everything unpacked might be a possibility.  Although our move was nearly two years ago it didn’t happen that way, and the self-isolation of the pandemic has led to only more time drains, not fewer.  We still have boxes waiting to be unpacked, and, of course, like many people we store memories in boxes.  Life is an accumulation of things that aren’t valuable but somehow aren’t disposable either.  While putting some things away in my study after work recently I spied something that has been in storage probably since I graduated from college.  I stopped and stared at it because even glimpsing it took me back instantly to my childhood.  What was it?  A devotional card.

The memory it prompted was sad, in a way.  We didn’t have much money when I was growing up (some things never change), so what we could afford was inexpensive stuff.  My faith, rather than being the optimistic, happy kind of fundamentalism, was rather the fearful, wrath of God kind.  I was a scared little boy.  Phobias ran deep and wide.  I bought cards like this to assure me that things weren’t so bad.  This particular card has three reassuring verses from the Bible, all taken out of context, on the back.  Seeing the card reminded me of the several others I once had.  Our homelife wasn’t peaceful, and I often had to retreat to where I could look at my devotional cards for reassurance.  At college I started to grow optimistic only to have my career prove that I was right at the beginning—life is scary and insecure.

I picked up the card.  I put it on my desk.  My mother had returned it to me, I recalled, when she moved into the trailer park.  A box of my stuff had been left at home (unfortunately not the box with all the 1970s baseball cards I had as a kid).  And two or three of the devotional cards had been tucked into it.  When she gave me the box I didn’t have time to sort through it.  The vacation time was all used up by driving all the way there and back, and so it got loaded on the truck with everything else, the flotsam and jetsam of a childhood spent being afraid.  This card was only one of several, and if I’m honest I’ll admit that it has reopened a box that may have been left by Pandora.

I Saw Three Letters

For some reason I seem to have less time during lockdown than I had during whatever the opposite of lockdown may be.  Still, papers pile up and I have to sort and file them.  That’s when I saw three letters.  (You know, I like the Post Office.  I always enjoyed going to our local as a kid.  There was an air of expectancy, even before Amazon.  And stamps were a kind of passport to another reality.)  Once in a very great while I receive something interesting in the mail.  These three letters were examples.  Mostly they were examples of how little companies, and even the United States government, actually knows about me.  I keep going to the mailbox hoping the toilet paper I ordered from China has come.  Instead, strange letters.

One was written entirely in Spanish.  Now I’m no “English first” fan—I’ve spent far too much of my life learning other languages to suspect that one is superior to others—but my Spanish isn’t exactly pristine.  I wasn’t really even sure what the letter was about, and I wondered how my surname in any way suggested I needed a different language in which to do my business.  I don’t know why I saved the letter.  Maybe I figured I’d get around to translating it some day.  When there’s time.  A second letter was from a former employer of some seven years ago, informing me that I had been assigned a new password for the network.  Now this surprised me.  When said company asked me never to return, they intimated that I had to relinquish all proprietary information.  I wasn’t to try to get back into their systems.  In fact, it was their blocking of my account at work that was, in hindsight, the first hint that I was no longer an essential worker.  A couple weeks later another letter told me the previous missive had been a mistake.

The third of the letters came from our own government, if that’s what you can call it these days.  It explained to me that if I looked into my bank account I’d find some money they had magnanimously decided to return to me from the thousands and thousands I have given them unstintingly over the four decades I’ve been working.  This letter, like much from the government, really served no purpose.  Well, it was entertaining because it had a facsimile of 45’s signature on it.  And the toilet paper hasn’t arrived yet, so I think this particular letter may be very useful indeed.