-First, she's dealing with a new isolation, the one entailed by sending off her firstborn son last August to an institute of higher learning. Though he'll be coming back home for winters, summers, and holidays, she knows that this transfer is the beginning of the end of her parenthood. She knows that it has to happen, that she can't hold onto him forever. But at the same time, she's been with this boy since he was still inside of her. She knows his complete life story better than he does, and she's been with him for all the defining moments of his childhood: his first steps; his first words; his little obsessions like Attack Packs, coins, plants, and fonts; the first time he rode a bike; the first time he fell off a bike; his elementary school graduation; the stresses of high school; and his high school graduation. She looks for every moment she can spend with him. Even though she knows he's off at college and very busy, she chats online with him at any opportunity - but trying at the same time not to be a clingy old mom, and to let him do his own things. It's hard to find a balance between letting him live his own life and keeping him in hers. She tries not to let her sadder side show through, and to present a happy face for him whenever they chat. She loves him more than anything else in life, except her other son, whom she loves equally. But she still has to let him go.
-Against this background, he comes home for Christmas. At first, it's just a simple, joyous having him back for an entire month. The family pulls off all the Christmas festivities. Then, completely without warning, he drops this suddenly irreligious blog post.
-For his whole life, she's been working to get him involved in the Christian community. Most of the time it's been a losing fight. He goes to church, but he only ever does that, and doesn't take any interest in further Christian things, like mission projects or retreat camps. She's sent him to several church camps, but each time he's come back from one he's said that he hated it, because it's just a bunch of singing about God, and praying, and he can't relate to that. What, then, can she do? He says he's receptive, but through his whole childhood, he hasn't done much to demonstrate that. She feels helpless, as if any effort, any at all, that she could undertake to bring him closer to God would fall short. What can she do for someone who seems so stubbornly unmoving, so unresolvably without God? Instead of forcing him, she lets him make his own decision. She'd like it if he believed everything she said, but he also recognizes that that would prevent him from being himself. So, as he left for college, she encouraged him to join Christian groups on campus. That, she realized with a deep sense of despair, was perhaps all that she could do. She had to let him go and make his own life choices; the umbilical couldn't connect them forever. But, now, she sees that her plan didn't work. He's been thinking about Christianity, but he hasn't come out necessarily in favor of Christianity. These other ideas! She sent him away to college hoping he wouldn't change - that he'd always, deep down, be the cute, credulous little boy that she used to take to kindergarten. Instead, he's become someone who doesn't seem to have so much of a basis in her raising, her love-filled and Godly raising, but rather has more of a basis in the worrying environment of thinking on his own and coming to conclusions that she can't deal with. She feels as if her whole motherhood has come crashing down, and maybe she might as well have never parented him. Her heart is breaking.
-At the same time, she also has to deal with the substance of what he's asking. It's not just that his attitude is changing, but that his attitude is changing and there are reasons for it. What about this blog post that disproves the coexistence of Heaven and Hell? What is she to make of that? She knows - I know that I know that I know that I know - that Christianity is the real, ultimate answer. She's known it in her heart of hearts since she was fifteen years old. How can she get through to him? He seems like a brick wall. Or maybe like a sieve: only rational thoughts can get through to him, and anything that's based purely on her unshakable, deep-down knowledge of God gets strained out and falls to the floor. What to do! What can she do! How can she help someone whose nature seems to refuse help! She prays to God for answers. Not only for how to bring him into the Christian flock, but for how to make sense of the new things he's wondering - for the intellectual fulfillment of him and her. She believes! And that belief is the truth, but he doesn't seem to be able to say the same! No matter how long she nestles with him on the couch, their two souls won't melt together, and she won't be able to transfer this feeling from the core of her being to the core of his. She can't even express it in words. Her words seem to fail her, traitors running away. How do you express inexpressible truths? She knows that Heaven and Hell are both real. She doesn't know how, she just knows. When she tries to tell him why, all she can say is that the peace of God tells her that it's real. I don't know right now whether she's questioning the truth of some of her basic tenets, or whether she accepts them still as irrevocably true and is trying now to make them make sense in the context of her knowledge of logic and the world. Maybe even she doesn't know. It's the most unsettling thing in the world when someone points out a problem with something you know has to be true. She looks for answers to those who are more eloquent than she is. There are people who can explain it to him so that he'll understand. She'll bring him to those people.
-So she's trying desperately to remedy the situation. At the same time, a deep, all-pervading sadness has come over her, because she's dedicated her life not just to raising this boy, but to raising him in Christianity and opening the way to eternal life for him. She feels as though all those efforts are starting to collapse. And her little boy doesn't share this firm, unwavering, unshakable faith. That tears her to pieces inside. She cries all the time, for the Godly love that he seems to be tearing asunder. How can this happen? Is it because she wasn't good enough at bringing God into his life? She can't shake that feeling - the feeling that she didn't get him into enough church activities, that she didn't talk enough about God with him, that she should have made sure he knew God before she let him go. She's plagued by doubt. Was she good enough, was she there when he needed him? It makes her sad all the time. She can't escape the sadness.
-On top of all that, she has to deal with the physical demands on her. The hot flashes she's having are not helped in any way by this mental anguish; the two combine to give her a nervous breakdown. She relies on her Effexor to keep her from deteriorating completely. It takes its toll. She sleeps a lot to get away and to relax her nerves. But there's always the time when she's awake. She prays to God for guidance. She consoles herself with miracles she's seen and heard of.
-I'm writing this, Mom, not just to tell you that I know what you're going through. It's to tell you I understand it too. Right after I started thinking about all this stuff, I went through a time of unending emotional turmoil, with no end in sight. I tried to make everything just the way it used to be, to go back to where I was. It didn't work. I wanted to sleep too. I slept to forget. It was terrifying. But I pulled through it. And I want to say that I love you. That will never change. As long as you've been my mom, you've always been the most loving person in my life, always telling me how much you love me and how much I mean to you. I don't express it much, but I love you right back. I know that no matter what happens, we'll always both love each other. That's the most important thing I can imagine. You said yourself that you believe God will work everything out the right way in the end. I believe it will all work out just right as well. You have never, ever been a bad or an insufficient mother; even when you've been sleeping and I've wanted you to take me somewhere (remember those days?), you still always loved me. Don't even dare put down your mothering. There are so many people who are worse off than me in the parents department: people who have never felt loved, who have been abused, who have never been told that they're the best thing in someone's world. Despite your weirdness sometimes, I've always loved you, even though I didn't say it so much. You did great. No matter what else happens, know that too: you did great.
-Contrary to how it would seem, though, I didn't come up with this stuff all at once. Here's how this chronology played out. Before a few months ago, I never really did think about religion. I went to church, and that was that. I also went to school. Occasionally these two would create a slight conflict of interests, but I dealt with those by not thinking about them. Being taught about evolution, for example. I didn't try to merge that with Christianity and the Bible's history of the world. I just let them both be; I kept them in separate compartments. Whenever I came across something that criticized religion, I turned hot and red from something like embarrassment mixed with fear, and then turned the page and tried to forget about it. And I did. I erected a barrier in my head; on one side there was religion, and on the other real life and science, and I tapped into each when the time called for it. That sturdily built barrier lasted me for years.
-This summer, I left the nest. Mom encouraged me not to let college change who I was as a person. She assured me that she would pray for me every day, and told me not to become just a part of the college - it seemed she saw college as a sort of Borg collective, where all ideas are supplanted, by those inculcated by professors. Now, I know she didn't really see it that way. She knows, of course, that college is a place where you go to learn about stuff, not a mindless drone factory. But still, she saw me off that day in August as if it weren't. So I got there. We've all read that story. I learned about calculus and Russian and English and disabilities. The barrier stayed up; no problem.
-It didn't break at once: it melted gradually, made of ice and finding itself in the spring thaw. I started wondering, if evolution and Christianity are compatible, just exactly how? And other things. I still stayed Christian, and made lots of attempts to restore my faith. One Tuesday, when I had lots of work to do, I went to a worship service (a great deal of it was singing); I started reading C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity; I looked at all sorts of apologetics. It wasn't easy on me. I didn't want anything to interfere with religion as I'd always known it, but I couldn't avoid it. I tried to simply stop thinking about it, tried to turn my mind elsewhere and leave my thinking about religion just where it was. But it was too late for that; the ice had melted; I couldn't escape from myself. Each day, from the beginning of the morning to the end of the day, I was thinking about religion. It actually got to paralyze me a bit in my day-to-day life; I became abstracted and my mind kept wandering away from class subjects. The harder I tried to scrabble out of the well of my psyche, the quicker I lost my handhold on the slick walls. This wasn't losing religion, it was losing the ability to be complacent about it. But it jarred me anyhow, and I sank into a funk for a good while. I kept trying to reevaluate things so that I could still hold them. After I read Mark Twain's Letters from the Earth for class - an unexpectedly serious piece from him, pointing out a great many absurdities in the Christianity he had been taught, and especiall with that taught by the Bible - I fell into a hot swoon, and then tried to accommodate this new information. "I don't have to believe in the entire Bible to believe in God, do I?" I wondered. "No - I can let that go, because it has some contradictions in it that I can't work around, and sanctions lots of things that I can't condone*, and instead I can see God in the wonderful aspects of day-to-day life, like love and music and nature." I worked with that idea for a few days, but then realized that without the Bible, Christianity wouldn't even exist, and so how is it possible to believe in the Christian God without believing in the Christian Bible? So I was back to square one. What I looked forward to each day was going to bed, a sweet eight-hour respite from my own thoughts. It's terrifying to be held hostage by yourself, because the only possible escape I can think of is death. I hasten to add that in no way am I suicidal, at all, which is why I knew I had to find answers that would satisfy me, instead of madly running away from the questions.
-Where did all this thought come from, why did it blossom into existence so suddenly? To some extent, I think it is possible to point the finger at my change in environment. Before I left, I was almost always in the company of my parents, devout Christians, and I was taken to church frequently. Then I went to Grinnell, which, according to a survey of college students across the country published in The 361 Best Colleges (one of two big compendiums of college information that I used last year), is twelfth-to-last for prominence of religion in students' lives. (I found this out after registering there.) This meant that some of the best friends I now made were agnostic or atheist. We've already seen that my English teacher - an atheist - assigned me that Twain reading. However, no one ever actively tried to talk me out of Christianity. In this way, moving off to college simply acted as a catalyst, to get me started on applying critical thinking skills not only to the material realms of my life, but to religion as well. The more I applied these critical thinking skills, the less it seemed religion could work. "Tease out complexities," Professor Savarese had advised me on my first paper, which was a simplistic and very poor close reading of a text we were reading. I doubt I'll ever forget that exhortation; it works so well at getting a much deeper understanding of an issue. Instead of floating on my back in the ocean of religion, staring up at the sky and treating this water as an undistinguished whole that didn't bear deeper reflection, I dove down and asked questions. I composed a whole list of them, actually, compiling them in a blog post that I left unpublished but kept adding to, called "Questions". I extracted the questions that I'd kept crammed down deep down inside of me for my whole life, and found new ones, drawing from this inscrutable ocean. I snatched a few from the air, too, putting criticism to secularism as well: I'm an equal-opportunity questioner. I realized that I was asking
more questions of Christianity, though, and that they seemed much tougher to resolve. If you'd like, I can publish that post and see what you think of them. They're not easy questions. I plan to keep reading extensively about them and other things.
-I started my serious reading when I got back home for Thanksgiving. I'd been looking forward to it for quite a while, because I wanted to pick up The Case for a Creator, which I figured would show me that Christianity is compatible with science after all. I tried not to approach it with an eye to tearing it down, but ultimately I realized that that was a euphemism for trying not to approach it critically, and that I couldn't deny my nature in order to accept it unquestioningly. I read through it, finishing it in my dorm a few days later, and put it down feeling supremely frustrated with Lee Strobel, the author. The book was no good at all. Here's what it is: Strobel tries to show how science doesn't just leave room for God, but indeed points to Him. The most glaring problem is that Strobel only interviews scientists who are Christians. This is ostensibly because it "wouldn't make sense to rule out any hypothesis at the outset" (28). However, notice that in limiting himself to scientists who are Christian, he DOES PRECISELY THAT. I really want to shout that, because it makes me mad. He refused from the very beginning to give secular science a chance to rebut, making the book fairly well useless. Beyond that very elemental error: he also interviews those with doctorates, but on subjects that they did not earn their doctorate in, and he leaves out key hypotheses that science has developed, attacking instead a straw man - science as he chose to see it. His entire chapter about evolution can be refuted by two words - "punctuated equilibrium" - which I learned in my high school biology class, and other science is similarly misrepresented. Secular science was always kept in the distance, an idea that he mentioned solely as something to let go of immediately, and again, he interviewed no secular scientists to see how they explain the hypotheses that he refuted. He dealt with straw men, knocking down caricatures of science and keeping the real science perpetually at bay. At the end I was left with no faith in Strobel's ideas on the reconciliation of science with religion. So, I need to read different books.
-Books! Why, I continually wonder, should my understanding of religion be contingent on reading all the right books? Why shouldn't I be able to find the answers solely within myself? But whenever I look inside myself, I can't seem to find any religion. Is this because there is none for me to find, or is it because my book learning from an early age in school has pushed it aside, and because I haven't pursued a religious education to match pace with my secular education? I don't know. Here's something. I've prayed before. But I've never prayed just because I felt the need to; it's always been out of a sense of obligation to the church or to some religious person or group. And every time I have - even from a very young age - I've always held at the same instant a doubt, the question of whether I was sincere. Every time I pray, even in the privacy of my own bedroom in the dark, I feel like a goof: like I'm saying words to myself, emitting a radio signal that travels only to the rest of my brain, and then peters out. Those who hold to the power of prayer will tell me that I'm wrong, that God hears me. I realize that other people can pray without the slightest hint of irony. If you're one of these people, you'll tell me you've felt God in you after your prayers. You've had a stirring in your soul. I can respect that. But remember, so did the pagan Native Americans - they drew incredible strength from their worship of animals and stars. There are tons of stories about these feats, one of which I just recently read in this month's Adventure magazine, called "Running Away". Myself, I've never had any experience analagous to these ones. Lord knows I've tried. I've really tried to pray, but I've never been able to do it without coming away wondering if I'd just done anything. I've gone out into nature. Mom said to me once, "That's where you find God, isn't it?" I agreed. But when I've gone out into nature and tried to feel at one with God there, I've never been able to do it. I've wanted to, but I've never left the woods telling myself that I just had a real religious experience. I just enjoy nature for nature. Nature isn't an analogy; it's just nature. That's what I've always come away with. Understand, none of this is for lack of trying or from a mental block. For eighteen years I was unquestioningly Christian, and, listening to Mom, tried many times to personally experience religion. Prayer, nature walks, church. I tried to make these things affect me deeply, personally, and religiously. I wanted them to. But they never did. It got to where I couldn't enjoy nature as much, because my conditioning was telling me from the back of my head that, really, I ought to be experiencing some deep movement of my Christian soul. Nothing really happened. I've always thought it was strange that some people "felt" religion and others didn't. Why should that be? Tack that onto my list of Questions.
-I came back home for Christmas break, hoping to do some serious talking with someone religious about religion. I didn't do much of that in Grinnell. I waited until I got home, because I wanted to talk with Mom. That basically brings us to yesterday. I broke the dam.
-Mom's been, predictably, crying a lot. It's hard to argue against a person when she's crying and making arguments straight from the heart, bypassing the brain and talking with pure emotion. However, Mom didn't do exclusively that. She's mainly been giving me evidence that Christianity is true. Miracles, for example; we listened to Duane Miller's* recording. In that, Miller explains how he got sick with influenza, and the myelin lining in his vocal cords deteriorated such that he lost his voice entirely, and had to speak in a loud whisper. Then he puts on a recording of a service he was giving, and in the middle of it, as he's preaching about healing powers, his voice comes right back. So how does that work, if not miraculously? I don't know. It seems pretty real. But I still have lots of questions about miracles, even if we assume they're true. She responded to my proof of the impossibility of the coexistence of Heaven and Hell by saying that she doesn't know, that it's a mystery, and that God will give us the answer in the end. I can see where she comes from with that, but it still leaves me unsatisfied. She's telling me that God creates an area where everyone is without sadness and some people may experience a deep and pervasive sadness (such as the one Mom would definitely feel if loved ones of hers were in Hell), simultaneously. (She says she doesn't believe we forget everyone - that we aren't lobotomy patients there.) In mathematical terms, in heaven, P and not P are simultaneously true. That's a logical impossibility, akin to saying that in Heaven, 1=2. Some things have to make sense even for God. If P and not P are simultaneously true, there's nothing to stop Heaven from being a place where up is simultaneously down, someone is in one place and at the same time not there at all, and everything simultaneously exists and doesn't exist. Since that can't work, I subscribe to the view that, if Hell exists, it must necessarily be empty but for Satan, and God forgives everyone. In my Questions post, there are more reasons, in the form of questions, that I don't think it's logically possible to believe in a place of eternal damnation. I've heard (from Wikipedia, though) that this idea has some currency in religious circles. I don't know much about it, though. In fact, I don't know much about a lot of religious things. And I want to. That's why I'm going to read the Bible, cover to cover. I need to at least know something about the Christianity that I keep taking about - the Christianity that I was raised with, and which Mom tells me, with the most extreme confidence that I think exists in this world, is the real truth. I can't really make an informed decision about Christianity until I read its fundamental text. For now, the issue remains up in the air. I remain up in the air - I'm not even on the fence, I'm hovering above it, so don't even bother to ask which way I'm leaning. Over the last few months, I've felt as if I were on a seesaw. Some days I've felt like atheism is a universal solvent that will melt everything in its path - dogma, old-time beliefs, mysteries that religion doesn't deal with. Other days I've felt like Christ has to be the true, and I'm looking in the wrong places for the answers I can't seem to find. Time will tell. But I can never rebuild the barrier, and I won't stop short of truth, no matter where that takes me.
*From the aforementioned unpublished Questions post:
"Q: Why is it okay to ignore certain parts of the Bible, e.g. the ones that sanction the death penalty for extremely trifling crimes like working on the Sabbath (Exodus 3:52) and saying "Oh my God" (Leviticus 24: 10-16), and ban things like homosexuality and shrimp, and condone selling your daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7), and stuff like that, but we have to scrupulously keep to the other stuff? Why aren't we allowed to covet? Coveting is what the entire free-market system is based on. If you don't covet, you're a communist or a primitivist, probably, yet Christianity is practiced mainly by adherents of other forms of civilization. Do we have to honor our mother and father if they're crack addicts or pedophiles? Should we just throw away the whole Old Testament for this reason, and stick with the less objectionable New Testament, which doesn't have all this wrath and these arbitrary rules in it?" Note that I haven't read the Bible all the way through, but I plan to. I'll see if it's possible for this stuff to work, but it doesn't seem likely. However, for other questions that don't seem answerable, go read the Twain that I linked to.
**There's a short recording on the link given, to his ministry, but for more background detail you'll have to go to this website, about halfway down the page, where there are longer recordings with expository details.
Note: I know everyone is going to want me to publish "Questions" now, but I think I'm going to let this stuff cool for a few days first.
Junger, Sebastian. "Running Away." Adventure December 2007/January 2008, p. 121.
Strobel, Lee. The Case for a Creator. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 2004.
(Now that I'm in academia, I feel the need to cite every reference. This probably means that I have no soul.)
If you believe in Heaven and Hell, and you would like to continue doing so, leave this post immediately and continue living in blissful ignorance. I say this without a tinge of demeaning you, because I respect that. I respect it, that is, if you'd rather your beliefs go entirely unchallenged, and each time something contrary happens, you avoid thinking about it. I know that used to be me. Now, however, I can't stop myself from thinking. I respect your willful ignorance, if you insist on it: but do you?
I've been thinking a lot about religion recently. This is a new development. I never used to think about it at all, and that's the way it has to be. If I read anything that pointed out something wrong with Christianity, I turned red and hot with something akin to embarrassment or fear, and then tried my best to forget about it entirely. But now I think. That's incompatible with a lot of what I believed.
-I'm reasonably sure that I've independently proved that the concepts of Hell and Heaven are mutually exclusive. I'm sure other people have come up with this before me, but I figured today:
- Heaven is supposed to be a place where there are all the happinesses that exist, and no sadness at all.
- Hell is supposed to be a place of eternal torment, with no chance for reprieve.
- Some devout Christians - Mom for example - have deep love for atheists or agnostics in their lives (Micah*, Dan). I'll be focusing on Mom's example here.
- If the Bible is correct, atheists will go to Hell for rejecting Jesus, and Christians will go to Heaven for accepting him.
- The Christians who love atheists will then be sad. All throughout Micah's and my life, the shibboleth of Mom's motherhood has been, "I love you guys SO MUCH. I don't know what I would do without you." She could never, ever be happy if she were in heaven and Micah were eternally separated from her and being tortured in Hell.
- It's impossible to claim that Mom will go to Hell for loving an infidel, because according to the Bible, Jesus both loves all and is completely free of sin; loving an infidel is not a sin.
- Therefore, there are a few possibilities:
- -Everyone goes to Heaven, because God forgives all offenses, even atheism.
- -Everyone goes to Hell, because God doesn't think anyone in the history of Earth has prostrated themselves well enough.
- -There is no Heaven and no Hell, just our lives on Earth.
Whatever the case, I'm pretty sure this soundly indicates that we're all in the same boat, and there's no point whatsoever in trying to change it. Undoubtedly there's some sort of apologetic argument against this. But it's going to have to be pretty damn impressive before I recant this. I tried to come up with some myself. Perhaps when a Christian goes to Heaven they lose all their love for any atheists they know? Come on, that just reeks of nonsense. For one thing, it would entail God changing free will, which is pretty much the one and only thing he's not supposed to be able to do. For another, it would mean that the Christian in Heaven wouldn't be the same person as the Christian on Earth, but rather a gutted version, and aren't we supposed to go to Heaven as we are? Perhaps the atheist-loving portion of the Christian goes to Hell, and all the rest gets into Heaven? That really stinks, and I imagine no one holds that theory, that it only exists as something I just made up. I doubt there's even one passage in the Bible that suggests something that absurd. I found an answer from Thomas Aquinas. He says there are two types of pity, one that we feel with our earthly selves and one that we feel with our heavenly selves. In Heaven the first will disappear entirely, and the second kind will be unable to pity the damned because that would require that it want the damned to become saved. So, there will be no pity for the damned. What? So in Heaven, love for those who are damned will disappear as an inferior, earthly emotion? Then what about Jesus, who is said to love all? Surely he wouldn't immediately stop loving Micah if Micah died and went to Hell. Jesus can't be a fair-weather friend like that. This answer also sounds like the first one I made up: that something changes in a Christian when they go to Heaven from Earth, and they lose their love for people they love. It still entails God changing free will, or gutting it. If God suddenly took away Mom's love for Micah and me while she was on Earth, she would not be the same person, not by any means. Her love for us is an essential part of her being. If she went to Heaven as a different person, it would be pointless, as pointless as if she went to Heaven only under the condition that she forget everything she knows about humans, or mathematics, or science. Heaven cannot be a place where there is no knowledge.
-I'll keep looking, but I doubt there's any defensible answer to this boulder of logic. Of course, I'm willing to change my mind if there is. I have an open mind. I can't stop thinking about stuff, and that's what an open-minded person does. I thought too hard about the Christianity of Heaven and Hell, and I broke it. If there's a good answer, let's hear it. I'm completely open to anything. I'll point out a problem with any answer, and acknowledge any and all problems in this post, in the idea of being completely fair. Let's get to the bottom of this, if I haven't already.
*Micah has stated unequivocally that he doesn't believe in God, as recently as a few days ago.
-That morning I woke up at 1000 and tied up all my loose ends: turned in library books, printed my paper and turned that in, and had lunch. I was a free man. I think Ben across the hall embodied it best when he came in as I was working on my paper and started yelling about how great this was, and he could finally read for pleasure, and he finally had free time! Jeremy says that's the happiest he's ever seen Ben. I rode to Ohio with Dan Malarkey again, and this time with two friends of his as well. It was foggy in Grinnell: a dense fog that had been there since the day before. As we drove away from Grinnell, the fog stayed around, a constant. It was like driving through a glass of milk. The road had a shortened memory span and forethought; anything more than a hundred feet or so away was forgotten. We didn't know how much fog there was. As it turned out, there was about the Midwest's worth of it. We hadn't gotten out of it by 1700, or mid-Illinois, when it got dark. Then it dissipated a little. We still ran into some after nightfall. It felt like Waiting for Godot. We pulled in to Dan's house at about 2300, and Mom drove me back to Cincinnati. Then I was home. We played Scrabble, and I won.
-Christmas!* I went shopping the next day for my secret Santa person. WARNING: SPOILER AHEAD IF YOU'RE UNCLE DAN. I didn't know what to get Dan, because if he wants something, he probably already owns the best model there is. I ended up getting him a little assortment: some really thick, warm socks that say they'll last forever; a bucket hat; and a fishing lure.
-Then Christmas was first at Tami & Mike's house. I hadn't seen those guys in so long. Jackie and I traded card tricks. She has a little book of beginner level tricks, which are more cute than anything. She thought mine were pretty good. I taught her one, and it baffled Aunt Tami. (She tried to pull it on Travis, forgetting that he was in the room when I explained it to her.) Travis and I told the rest of the family what we'd been doing in college. Travis, as it turns out, had gone to Europe, and he showed us a slideshow of pictures on the computer. What really struck me was the Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona. It looked like it was melting, or maybe it looked like it was alive. There's no end to the amount of detail in it. I didn't realize it was even possible to build something like that. In a way, it isn't so far: construction started in 1882, and Wikipedia says it's forecast to end in 2026. Apparently it was originally going to take several hundred years, but we've gotten quicker at architecture since the 1800s. His trip to Marrakesh was similarly incredible in that I saw an exotic place that only exists in pictures in National Geographic as a real thing that can actually happen: going to an airport where cats roam around freely, riding a camel through a sculpted sand dune, taking a series of hairpins down a sheer cliff face to the night's hotel. Studying abroad is looking more and more interesting.
-We opened presents; as I'd hoped, Nana got me some pants. All my khakis had disappeared! I only had jeans, and I like khakis better than jeans. She also gave a flat cap, of which I will post a picture not too far into the future. My flat cap is awesome and makes me look awesome. ...-er. Additionally, I got some mukluks (Tami & Mike, I think) and some peanut butter fudge (Nana of course) and a zip-up sweatshirt (chosen by Jackie). We had Cincinnati chili for dinner, and Micah declared it better than Skyline and Gold Star both. (First time I've had Cincinnati chili in months, and I had it in Dayton. Bizarre!) Eventually, though, we had to go home.
-The next day, the 24th, is Mom's birthday, so Grandma & Grandpa threw her a party with excessive amounts of rib roast, mashed potatoes, and other delicious food. Dave was there too, and Grandma & Grandpa made sure we wouldn't leave hungry. We had some ginger cupcakes for dessert. I, of course, had a black cow also.
-On Christmas we had Christmas. Before we left for Oxford, we opened our intra-family presents. Mom got Micah and me helmets, giving us at once handy protective gear and a lesson in the fine art of subtlety. We also got weird egg-shaped Weeble-type alarm clocks, which are kinda keen. And I got some more pants. Pants! And I got a 15-in-1 board game set. Then we left. It was really weird: we left on time. In fact, we got there slightly before Dave & Cº. Sierra and Jazmin brought some Christmas presents they'd already opened. Sierra had a pink thing where you put fancy dresses on Disney princesses. She showed it to me, and I said that was so great. Cute kids can cause you to lie right through your teeth. Sierra and Jazmin are awfully cute. Without much delay, we started opening presents. Dan & Tracy weren't there, so they didn't get to open theirs. Most of the presents went to the kids - Sierra, Jazmin, Hayden. They got toys. Ah, toys. You know, I never really liked toys all that much. As for the grown-ups, Mom got Dave a travel bag; Dad got Grandma some wine; Grandma got Mom an Amish-made oak cabinet; Maria made everyone spaghetti sauce; Tracy in absentium gave Dad a sensible fishing rod and reel and net, because she was tired of looking at his "oceangoing" assembly; Grandpa got Micah a TV; and Maria made everyone spaghetti sauce. Grandpa drew my name for the secret Santa, so I got lavished with a spectacular Leatherman and a really sturdy and excellent krokay set. This one is going to stand up to much more abuse than the flimsy model I had before. Grandpa liked it so much, he ordered one for himself after looking at it. This means I won't have to wait to start the Grinnell Krokay Contingent until I can get a custom set made. We can just use this one. Now, any wood set is going to eventually wear and need to be replaced, but I think that even if we play ruggedly and frequently, this one can last us at the very least to the end of the year, and probably well into next and perhaps beyond. Eventually, I'll want to get a custom set made, with nylon heads, but this one is probably the best one I could hope for outside of a custom set. It will work just right. I can't wait to try it out, and as I find people, I'm going to gather them together for a breaking-in game at probably Winton Woods, before I leave for Grinnell.
-I'm going to have to get my driver's license before I leave, because I don't think I'll be able to fit this in a car with the rest of everyone's stuff if I'm carpooling home. Hm.
*Most of this section presupposes you know all the names in my family. If not, just go along for the ride, I guess.
-I tried to get a winter job, but the hiring person from Hillman says it wouldn't be cost-effective enough for them to train me for two weeks during the busy inventory period of the year for a four-week job. Even though I'd be coming back for spring and summer breaks, it wouldn't work, she says. So instead, I'm going to focus on my fonts. I'll be buying a copy of the industry-standard program (well, there are competing programs, but one of them - FontLab), as opposed to the watered-down version of it that I have now, and then I'll be able to make my fonts of professional quality, and start actually selling them, instead of talking about selling them. I've already talked selling with a guy from Veer, though we haven't mentioned any numbers yet; that'll start after my font becomes pro quality. So, hopefully that will start me off making money with fonts, and also it'll be cool to be "officially" a type designer, one whose fonts are for sale on the internet. It'll be really cool to start seeing my font in use all around the world. Now, you're not likely to start seeing it in your supermarket or just anywhere once it starts selling; there's too much type for every font to become widely seen just because it's being sold. But someone (I hope, at least) will use it for something, and I think Veer does a thing where buyers are encouraged to send in specimens of the font in real-life use. I'll enjoy that.
I guess you can tell I like fonts and talking about them.
-The entire room was filled, so it was good planning to have Obama on a raised platform. He made a rather good speech about how we need to leave behind the politics of pandering and start doing what's right. Of all the candidates I've heard of, Obama is the only one I can support. This is probably mainly because I've heard very little about the other candidates. The Obama faction is pretty active in Grinnell, postering on all the walls and bathrooms. The posters I've read describe him as a really honest guy, who gave a carbon-reduction speech in Detroit because he wasn't going to make two different speeches in California and Detroit. I know next to nothing about the Republican candidates; they don't really get much attention in Grinnell. But Obama seems like a guy with real goals and a real plan, whereas the rest of the candidates are "Not George W. Bush!".
-I realize this bit of politics is extraordinarily biased and that I could do with knowing more about the rest of the contenders, but I think there's at least some grain of truth in it. Obama's a good guy.