The last day of USU classes was Thursday, December 10, and though I had two final projects and my own students' grading to finish, for most intents and purposes I was already on vacation. My therapist a couple years ago said that his experience successfully procrastinating as an undergraduate made him less stressed in graduate school. That was one of the most comforting things I ever heard, and I really took it to heart. I've gotten a perfect score on every assignment in every class this semester and still had a lot more free time than I expected. Now I have no classes and no job for over a month; school starts again on January 19 because spring break is canceled to prevent students from traveling and bringing Sharona Cyrus back with them, is what I heard. Next summer, I will probably go back to my old job at Jenson Online for a while to get some extra money, but there's no point trying to do that right now, especially since December is their slowest time of year when they give employees free time off.
I was supposed to attend two sexual misconduct prevention trainings this semester - one for graduate students and one for university employees. I'm not sure why graduate students need to have their own training separate from normal students, but they do. The employee training never happened because it's being rewritten to conform with updated government regulations, but the graduate student training was... interesting. I signed up for a date and time and then showed up to a Zoom meeting with several other graduate students, and it basically went as follows.
Host: This is kind of an awkward topic.
Everyone else: Yes, well, that can't be helped, can it? We'll just have to deal with -
Host: So let's make it less awkward. Let's make it fun.
Everyone else: Uh, what?
Host: I'm gonna put you in breakout groups and have you answer icebreaker questions.
Everyone else: Icebreaker questions?? Um, thanks, but that's really not -
Host: I'm going to put you back in these groups over and over.
Everyone else: You really don't have to -
Host: Build some lifelong friendships!
Everyone else: Please don't do this
Host: Have fun!
Everyone else: We won't
By the fifth or sixth time I returned to my breakout group, none of us were speaking at all. The main group discussion was fine, though notably absent was any mention whatsoever of rights or due process for those accused of sexual misconduct. I'm sure that was just an oversight - this isn't Purdue, after all.
Surprisingly, there doesn't seem to be a rule against graduate instructors asking out their students. I assume that if there were such a rule, it would have been announced very emphatically both during this training and the initial orientation. It makes no difference to me either way since none of my students are old enough or good enough at writing for me to be attracted to them, but I'm just surprised. My colleage Greyson got asked out by one of her students in a weekly reflection post, and she turned him down because it was "unprofessional". In the next week's reflection post he said that he hated her class and everything about it. Then he tried to make her jealous by talking about "this dope girl" he was going out with. Then he stopped coming to class. Then at the end of the semester he said he's dropping out of college and it's all her fault. I'm never going to stop teasing her about it. On a more positive note, one of my students asked out one of his classmates in a discussion post, and I was super impressed with his chutzpah and I hope they get married because that would be the cutest thing ever.
I also was supposed to have to take an alcohol training before I would be allowed to register for classes next semester, and that never materialized either. It would have been a waste of time anyway. I've never consumed a drop of alcohol in my life, and if I ever do, I know I'll immediately drink myself to death and there will be no other problems to consider.
Teaching was... good. I don't know what else to say. It wasn't phenomenal, it wasn't terrible, it wasn't super easy, it wasn't super difficult. I do seem to have natural teaching skills that somewhat compensate for my lack of knowledge or experience. I don't know how I could have acquired any such skills but I don't know how else to account for the semester going so smoothly under the circumstances. I love most of my students - I definitely have favorites, and one least favorite. My favorites are the best writers, of course, but also some others who aren't so good at writing but are just really good hard-working kids. I still don't know what most of them look like. I may have gotten an exceptional batch - my colleagues complained that all of their students wrote about Covid for the "Investigating the Conversation" current event essay, but my students, in addition to a few essays about Covid's effects on this or that, wrote about such diverse topics as Utah's drought, California's wildfires, Chicago's violence, Mexico's water treaty with the US, Chile's new constitution, Bolivia's election, Poland's abortion ban, and China's Uyghur genocide.
I tried to get them to talk and make friends with each other in class. For the most part they were awkward and quiet, but sometimes when they finished their work in breakout groups they asked each other about their lives and majors and stuff, and sometimes when I dropped in they asked me questions about my life and undergraduate experience and that was probably the most enjoyable thing for me so far. They didn't have many opportunities to socialize this semester and I wanted to help them out as much as I could. Most of them are freshmen getting cheated out of their freshman experience. When I was a freshman, events were held on campus and/or in my dorm almost every evening. Live, in-person events. I feel so sorry for these kids. I tried, also, to teach them skills and principles that will help them in everything they do for the rest of their lives. I thought back to a philosophy class I took my first semester, and how it taught me to think, and I wanted to replicate that effect in my own class. I never forced my opinions on anyone but I taught them how to evaluate sources and information and different perspectives, and that will help them be less stupid and dogmatic than most Americans.
I tried, also, to draw on my own experience to urge them to avoid my mistakes and consequent suffering, but here I was less successful. One of my students with a learning disability flunked the class after not showing up or turning anything in for two months, despite being informed by me about the Disability Resource Center four times. I ask myself, what could I have said or done differently to have more of an influence on this student? If nothing, then what's the point of me being here? If I wanted to watch young people ignore my warnings and make avoidable mistakes and suffer, I would become a parent.
For a long time it's baffled me when I bring up evolution and someone says something like "We didn't evolve, we were created!" It's struck me as a very silly false dichotomy. Because basically I'm saying "God's process of creation is evolution" and then they're saying "No, God's process of creation is creation." They act as if they're presenting an alternative theory when in fact they're not even explaining what it is. What is "creation"? Even if, for the sake of argument, the inconsistent creation accounts in Genesis (and the Pearl of Great Price and the endowment ceremony for Latter-day Saints) are taken as entirely accurate factual accounts of literal history, they don't give any appreciable level of detail. "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." Okay, but how? What physical laws and processes did God employ to do this? In place of mutations and natural selection - what?
I may need to reevaluate my position a little, though, since my recent discovery of an apocryphal document that, while still confusing, expands on some aspects of the Genesis narrative and answers some of those questions. It's obviously very old and valuable but someone clearly didn't realize that, because it ended up at the used book warehouse where I work. I translated it during break one day. (If a manager reads this, no, I didn't take it home in violation of company policy. I put it back on the belt.) I don't actually know Hebrew or whatever language it was in, but I do have an English degree, and any translator will tell you that it's more important to be fluent in the target language than the source language. So without further ado I present this fascinating and, I believe, essential contribution to the ongoing debate.
The Pamphlet of Achu-Hesh-Kabaz
Now it came to pass that after God had created this world, he looked it over and noticed that it had no wars, pollution, police brutality, or unnecessary franchise reboots. And he decided to change that because he was bored.
So God passed through an airlock in the dome above the Earth, pausing on the other side to admire the stars embedded in it, and descended to the ground.
And God gathered a lot of dust, and he used static electricity and tree resin to stick the dust together in the approximate shape of himself. And when this was done, he gave the dust doll mouth-to-nose resuscitation, and it transformed into a living man with bones and organs and everything.
But God noticed that the man's anatomy incorporated several flaws and quirks that would have made sense if it had been the product of descent with modification from earlier life forms, but which were quite frankly embarrassing as the direct product of an omnipotent being working from scratch. And God said, "Oops, let me start over."
But it was too late; the man had instantaneously achieved sapience and the abilities to walk, talk, and count on his fingers. And the man asked, "Why isn't my spine built to support a bipedal gait?"
And God said, "None of your business, that's why." And he decided this was good enough for now after all, and he named the man Adam. But Adam wouldn't stop asking questions.
So God planted a garden eastward in Eden, a beautiful perfect paradise where no death or suffering existed, which rendered its existence somewhat superfluous because no death or suffering existed in the entire world. And when God had finished planting, he picked Adam up between his thumb and forefinger and carefully deposited him inside the garden.
And God said, "Run free, Adam, and name the animals and stay out of my way until I'm ready to deal with you. Help yourself to the fruit from any of these trees, except for this one tree that I put here even though I don't want you to eat from it."
And Adam said, "Isn't that entrapment?"
And God said, "Yes, but entrapment isn't actually illegal. Just don't eat it or you'll die."
So Adam ate the fruit of all of the trees except that one. And because he didn't actually need sustenance, he ate only because he was bored. And because death had not yet entered the world, every cell of every piece of fruit somehow remained alive as he chewed, digested and excreted it, which is pretty horrific in a "I have no mouth and I must scream" kind of way.
And Adam made friends with all the animals, and named them. His favorite was a Velociraptor named Tiffany. She was a cunning predator who used her speedy legs, sickle-shaped claws, and serrated jaws to eat grass. He trained her to fetch sticks and told her she was a clever girl.
But it came to pass that Adam grew lonely. Even though he inexplicably had at least 98% of his DNA in common with chimpanzees, transcription errors and all, he still didn't have much in common with them, and his dates with them never ended well.
And Adam said, "God, I'm lonely."
And God said, "Are you talking to me or just moaning to yourself?"
And Adam said, "The first one."
And God said, "I'll see what I can do."
And God gave Adam knockout gas. And God said, "Kali Ma... Kali Ma..." And God reached right into Adam's torso with his bare hand and pulled out a rib without even leaving a scratch. And God said, "Hocus pocus, flippity flam, arazzamatazz, and alakazam!" And the rib expanded and morphed into a real life honest to goodness living breathing woman.
And the woman asked, "Why isn't my spine built to support a bipedal gait?"
And God said, "Shut up."
And Adam woke up and saw the woman and his eyes got really big. And God said, "Ta-da! I hope you like her, because she's all you're getting."
And Adam said, "Wow, compared to those chimpanees, she's beautiful!"
And God said, "Smooth."
And the woman said to Adam, "Get lost, creep, I wouldn't date you if you were the only man on Earth." And Adam's face fell.
And the woman said, "Psych! It's a joke, get it? It's funny because you literally are the only man on Earth. Try this one: I want you to make me feel like I'm the only girl in the world."
And Adam said, "Haha! It's funny because you literally are the only girl in the world!"
And Tiffany the Velociraptor's face fell. And Adam scratched the feathers behind her earholes, which she had for some reason despite not being in any way related to birds, and said, "I didn't mean it like that, Tiff. Who's a clever girl? Yes you are! Yes you are!"
And the woman continued, "Mister, I feel like I've known you all my life. It's almost as if we were made for each other. Let's make this a world for two."
But God found her "jokes" so lame that he flooded the entire planet in a fit of rage, which created a momentary nuisance for all the immortal plants and animals but left behind no geological evidence. And he apologized, but wouldn't promise never to do it again.
And it came to pass that Adam and the woman sat in the Garden of Eden doing diddly squat. And they loved each other very much, but as the years went by the woman became so bored that she decided certain death didn't sound so bad.
And one day she ate the forbidden fruit, and after she had eaten the forbidden fruit and saw that she was still alive, she cast her eyes to the heavens and cried out, "Will this beautiful perfect nightmare never end?"
Little did the woman know, however, that the moment her teeth pierced the skin of the fruit, it released an oscillating wave of variable-frequency hypertronic alpha radiation particulates into the atmosphere, which immediately altered the subatomic structure of every living thing on Earth, introducing death, sin, pain, disease, and conspiracy theories into the world.
But the fruit tasted exquisite, so she took it to Adam. And he asked why she had eaten it, and she made up a ridiculous story about a talking snake, and he laughed and fell in love with her sense of humor even more.
And God made them put some clothes on, leave the Garden of Eden and get real jobs.
And God said, "Oh, also you can have kids now, which you couldn't do in the Garden of Eden because I want to get the deposit back."
And Adam said, "Well, I guess if we're going to have more humans running around, I should give the woman a name."
And God said, "Wait, what? You never bothered to give her a name?"
And Adam said, "It seemed unnecessary. She always responded to 'Hey, you.'"
And God said, "Oh, for the love of me. Fine, give her a name then."
And Adam said, "Hmmm... how about Steve?"
And God said, with inexplicable discomfort evident in his voice, "Um, I don't think so. Try again."
And Adam said, "Okay, just Eve then?"
And Eve said, "I see myself as more of a Jessica," but no one listened to her.
So Adam procreated with the woman made from his own DNA, and then their children procreated with each other, which actually explains a lot about the state of the human race today.
And Tiffany the Velociraptor had to be put to sleep after she tried to kill their infant son Cain. And Adam cried for days. But at least Cain was all right.
And it came to pass that one day Adam and Eve were going for a nice romantic stroll through the miserable wasteland when they caught God planting bones of Australopithecus, homo erectus, homo habilis, Neanderthals, anatomically modern humans more than six thousand years old, and various other imaginary creatures.
And Adam watched in astonishment and asked, "God, why are you doing this?"
And God said, "To test the faith of future generations."
And Eve said, "By lying to them?"
And God said, "It's not lying! It's... um... it's... look, don't question my ways, okay? My ways are not your ways. End of discussion."
And it was.
After being unemployed for nearly a month, I returned to my job on Monday. The company took out a loan from this new government program to be able to reopen. See, only billion-dollar banks and corporations qualify for huge taxpayer-funded bailouts. Small businesses like this one have to content themselves with taking out loans. But that's none of my business. Anyway, the timing came as a surprise to me because, though the initial closure was due to Amazon's issues due to the beer bug rather than due to the beer bug itself, I assumed it would remain closed at least until May 1 when Governor Herbert will start to loosen up his "Stay Safe, Stay Home" policy a bit. Or maybe until July, depending on how long Amazon takes to straighten out its issues. I had just started getting used to my life consisting solely of sitting at home alone and going on long walks alone. The first couple weeks dragged on and on and on and with no end in sight, the thought occurred to me more than once that I might end up hanging myself, but then the days just started to zip by. Sleep in a little, work on my Spotify playlist, take a walk, and bam, it's already dinnertime.
I hope it's safe to go back because I couldn't legally decline the offer and continue to collect unemployment insurance. For that matter, I haven't gotten nearly as much money from unemployment insurance as I was supposed to. Utah's website was all like "Yes, the federal government passed this bill to increase weekly unemployment payments by $600, but we're not doing that yet because something something bullcrap." And yes, I agree with those complaining that essential workers should also be getting $600 weekly raises, if not more, but I never asked to lose my job so I don't appreciate being painted as some kind of villain for getting paid to do nothing. Anyway, the company is taking new precautionary measures and there are a lot fewer of us anyway since many employees have gone home to their families. Every other workstation is empty, weekly food days are gone, congregating during breaks is forbidden and I always wear a mask. It should be fine until the second wave hits during flu season and Utah has no herd immunity.
I'm very frustrated with the people who refuse to take this pandemic seriously, who implicitly treat it as a joke or explicitly claim that it's being blown out of proportion. Someone recently complained that all my Facebook posts nowadays are "judgey" of people doing things that I don't approve of. Well yes, I suppose I am a bit judgey of people whose apathy and/or stupidity is actively endangering God knows how many innocent lives. I do believe that if there were any justice in the world, the virus would evolve to specifically target the people who are protesting for the right to catch it. I'd rather just catch it and get it over with too but I recognize that other people don't want to die and I have no right to kill them if I can avoid it. Even if, according to Republican logic, they are sub-human and don't count as evidence of the virus' seriousness because they were over sixty or had underlying health conditions. "All lives matter" my butt.
It's kind of sickening that as a society and as a species we're at a point of having to weigh people's lives against something called "the economy". Because people's lives are, you know, an actual thing, whereas the economy is a manmade illusion. We invented this stuff called money, we decided that it has value because we say it does, and we decided that most adults' every waking moment should be spent stressing over it. We twisted the wholesome principle of honest work for honest pay into a system designed to keep poor people poor and make the average life revolve around the constant pursuit of money. I recognize that money is a necessary evil and that running modern civilization without it would be virtually impossible. I don't know of a better alternative. But still, a slight reality check would be nice. Money is not real. The economy is not real. The stock market is just a bunch of numbers. So why do we worship them? Why are we debating what number or percentage of human lives is an acceptable sacrifice to prevent this manmade illusion from floundering further?
The mental health problem, at least, is a legitimate concern that the people saying "stay home" over and over have almost entirely glossed over. It took a heavy toll on my mental health until I got used to it. I didn't think giving up my limited social activities would make any noticeable difference, but it did, and then one of my greatest worries was realized when I lost my job. Life was boring and lonely and miserable and even though I was getting used to it I'm glad I have my job back. I feel somewhat validated in what I said years ago when I first got this job - that it's a very good job, and it's like a marriage, in that you start out all excited and stuff but as the years where on it becomes commonplace and tedious and you have to consciously remind yourself every day how blessed you are to have it. Of course, I will be leaving and probably never coming back after I become a graduate instructor and hopefully kick off a teaching career this fall. But it's hard to say what that will even look like. Will I do everything online? Will the university even be open? The uncertainty kind of blows. But even so, I think I'm finally figuring out how to be an adult and for the first time since becoming one, I'm optimistic about the future.
As of Wednesday, I am "temporarily laid off" from my job for the foreseeable future. As of Friday, the governor of Utah has initiated a "Stay Safe, Stay Home" policy. So when I'm not going to the grocery store or taking yet another aimless walk by myself, I'm supposed to be at home alone, all day, every day, until at least the middle of April. I live alone. I love living alone and I haven't changed my mind about that and I will always prefer too much solitude over too little. However, I need balance like anyone else, and I needed the precious little social interaction I was getting. This really, really blows. If the damned virus kills me it will be an act of mercy.
With normal church meetings discontinued, members of my ward were doing the sacrament (communion) in groups of fewer than ten. Thanks to the governor's directive that's also over until at least the middle of April. Still, I'm grateful for the unparalleled experience I had with it last week. It concerns my neighbors C and T, the ones I swear I fully intended to write about just the one time and never again, but who have had a lingering impact despite avoiding me completely. So this is what, the fifth time? Sorry about that.
In the immediate wake of what they did to me, I was too broken, deflated and tired to even think of being angry at them. That changed over the following days as I slowly regained some will to live. As time went on and I availed myself of gossip from various mutual acquaintances, insights from other friends who read my initial post or listened to me spill my guts, and my own hindsight and introspection, I came to understand that one of them is quite literally insane as a result of brain damage incurred in a car accident that wasn't her fault, and that the other, her best friend, is naive and gullible and swallows everything she says without question. The insanity bit probably comes as no surprise to anyone who read the post. The surprise, rather, is how I could have been so stupid as to not realize it sooner. All I can say is that as long as people aren't harming anyone, I believe in their right to do their own thing without explanation or apology, and I don't believe in stigmatizing mental illness by jumping to blame it for everything bad somebody does. Obviously my open-mindedness bit me in the butt this time.
In this light, though, I was finally able to reconcile what I thought I knew before about my neighbors' character with their childish, ridiculous and deeply hurtful actions. One was simply not accountable, while the other was carried away by personal weakness that I can relate to, empathize with and even find kind of adorable. They were both victims as much as I. My heart softened toward them and I forgave them. Except when I didn't. Because every time I thought for more than a few seconds about that hemorrhoid in a police uniform coming into my apartment and bitching at me, the trauma resurfaced as fresh and raw as ever and my anger rose with it. So I went back and forth and experienced cognitive dissonance over this several times a day.
The whole thing, the mere fact that this thing happened that should have been a nightmare but was in fact real and irreversible, weighed on me almost constantly whether I was thinking about it or not, an ever-present burden subtly but unmistakably squeezing the joy out of my life. I broke through it for one day when I learned that I'd been accepted to graduate school and that my sister is pregnant. I can announce that now. My sister is pregnant. I don't know the baby's gender or whether it's still legal to force a certain gender on a baby, so I don't know yet if I'll be an uncle or an aunt, but it's thrilling nonetheless. The burden returned the next day though. Friends started telling me I should see a therapist which, yeah, they were right. But what does this have to do with the sacrament?
Any priesthood holder in my ward was authorized to administer the sacrament, but a handful in particular coordinated to do it in their homes and let fewer than ten people show up for it. I knew which group I wanted to join because I literally have two friends in this ward. I realize that's my own fault and the price I have to pay for not wanting to put myself out there more and answer the question "Where are you from?" eight billion more times, but it is what it is and I wanted to go where I knew Katie would go because she was friends with the guys doing it. The trouble is, I knew C and T would be there too for the same reason. And they wouldn't want me to be there and maybe they would complain to the one guy in particular whom they previously fled to when they were afraid of me for no reason - and he agrees with everyone else that they were being childish and ridiculous, but nonetheless he supported them in their own time of trauma and I'm grateful for that. But I figured if they said they weren't comfortable with me there, he would side with them and not let me come even though he knows I did very little wrong.
So yeah, I got pretty angry just thinking about that possibility before anything even happened, which just made me feel more defiant and determined to give him a piece of my mind if/when this scenario did happen. Eventually I realized that this was a bad attitude not conducive to what was supposed to be a sacred spiritual experience. I decided, out of respect for my neighbors' completely misguided but nonetheless real feelings, to not go and to just do the sacrament privately with my other neighbor and friend Steve instead. So when the guy asked if I was still planning on coming, I told him that.
Oh, but his roommate was out of town and he needed someone else to help with the blessing...
A few moments earlier I had felt compassion and legitimate concern for how my presence would affect C and T; now, however, I couldn't help laughing to myself for several minutes as I thought, They're really not going to like this. I wasn't sure why I was laughing. Not to be intentionally derisive, but all the stress I'd been through just made this development inexplicably hilarious.
As the time approached, though, I just felt nervous. I nervously showed up a few minutes early and nervously made some small talk with the guy. It was like my second time talking to him but he remembered things and asked me about graduate school and that was nice. Then the sources of my nervousness arrived. DUN DUN DUN!
T was super awkward. The entire time, she kept her eyes pointed in literally every direction except mine. C was her usual awkward. They greeted the other guy, and then she looked at me. I looked at her. It was very important to me to just act chill and not like I had something to be embarrassed or ashamed or scared about. It was the first time I made eye contact with her since before the incident, and she spoke to me for the first time since before the incident. Her face typically blank, her voice typically monotone, she said, "Hello."
I almost responded out loud before I remembered that the hemorrhoid in a police uniform warned me in no uncertain terms not to talk to her. So I just mouthed it. I mouthed, "Hi." To an unfamiliar observer it must have looked like I felt too embarrassed or ashamed or scared in her presence to speak.
My neighbors took a seat on the giant beanbag across from me and perpendicular to the other guy. As T found a dozen fascinating things to look at besides me, C chatted with the guy, but occasionally shifted her gaze to me as if to include me in the conversation. I felt fully included, for example, in her recommendation not to buy peanut butter in Germany. (Apparently it's bitter.) I also caught her looking at me a couple times when I wasn't looking at her until I looked at her because she was looking at me. That gave me a sense of satisfaction, a sense of Ha, you can't be upset at me for looking at you because I wasn't looking at you until after you looked at me first so that's on you, not me.
Looking into her eyes was quite an introspective experience. There have been times when she has this smile that lights up her face like a Christmas tree and leaves little doubt as to her mood, but the rest of the time it's anyone's guess. Her blank expression gave virtually no indication of sapience, no hint of any gears turning behind those eyes whatsoever. And yet I knew that wasn't the case. I knew she was thinking something, that a process was ongoing on her mind to which I had no access. And the best part? I knew my expression was the same way. I've learned from experience that I can be impossible to read, even for women who are supposed to be experts at that sort of thing but aren't. I knew she couldn't read me any more than I could her. Two blank stares, two inscrutable minds locked together. I can't explain why that's such a powerful concept for me but it just is.
As I sat across from this beautiful awkward woman who probably still hated me, though, my nervousness was displaced by inexplicable joy. What I wish I could have said with my eyes is this: "Calise, I am not upset with you. I forgive you. I love you. I am not a threat. You have nothing to fear. I'm so sorry for causing you to feel otherwise." And because the words were in my eyes, she would know they were true.
Katie arrived, and for better or worse she was the last of us, so we got started with a hymn. I requested "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty". That seemed agreeable to everyone, but Katie needed to know what page number was it on? "Um," I said, wracking my memory, "sevvventyyy... twooo?" For a moment of silence, everyone else looked it up. I didn't bother because I know all the words. When the silence became unbearable I asked, "Is it actually seventy-two?"
"Yes," Katie said, "good job."
"Wow," I said. Then I hastened to add, "I mean, of course I knew that."
It wasn't hilarious or anything, but C laughed. I don't mean laughed the way a normal person laughs. She made this little "Heh" noise that most people wouldn't bother to make unless they were being sarcastic. I've made her laugh like that before, and I've also made her actually giggle a few times, and I don't know the determining factor between those options but this unexpected bit of levity was nice regardless.
After that I had the privilege of helping administer the sacrament to my de facto enemies. It could have gone either way for them - it could have been a really uncomfortable experience to accept this sacred ordinance from someone they believe to be an evil stalker, or it could have been a cathartic experience to mutually humble ourselves and put aside the considerable tension between us for a few moments. I know it was the latter for me. I'm so grateful that I was able to do this one nice thing for them after they forbade me from doing almost anything nice for them. C used to like it when I did nice things for her. When I left her a bag of Tootsie rolls, she announced to the world that she "couldn't be happier". And then the hemorrhoid in a police uniform cited those Tootsie rolls as a reason why I'm a bad person. But I'm getting off-topic.
The point is, the joy I felt that evening lifted my burden entirely. Maybe I'm jinxing myself, but it's been gone for a week. I don't feel weighed down and I can think about what happened without experiencing PTSD. Of course, I would still very much like for them to both grow up and wise up and rectify this unfortunate situation. Especially now, when I'm stuck next door to them almost 24/7. Being able to at least text them again would make the soul-crushing boredom and isolation of the foreseeable future a bit more tolerable. But whatever. I really do feel better, I swear.
A "Come Follow Me" lesson followed the sacrament, but as soon as the latter was over, T said she wasn't feeling well and practically ran away. C stayed a few more minutes for the cookies Katie brought, and then before she left she thanked the other guy and me for administering the sacrament, looking from him to me to include us both in the statement.
I almost responded out loud before I remembered that the hemorrhoid in a police uniform had warned me in no uncertain terms not to talk to her. So I just nodded.
Remember the demonic mosquitoes I wrote about? The mosquitoes that, before I bought a handheld bug zapper, attacked me en masse every day on the way to work and bit me more times than I can begin to estimate? Yeah, so I read the other day that some of them, this exact mosquito population on this exact block, were trapped and tested positive for West Nile virus. I'm sorry, what century is this? What country is this? And why in the seven levels of hell hasn't anyone in Logan done anything about this mosquito infestation, which has existed for years, until I bought a handheld bug zapper?
So by my calculations, there's a zero percent chance that I haven't already been infected with West Nile virus several times. Nothing has happened yet and maybe nothing will happen because actually 8 out of 10 people who get infected with West Nile virus aren't affected at all. And only 1 in 150 people develop super severe and potentially fatal symptoms. If that does happen to me, though, I don't have health insurance so I'll just be screwed. Yay, America!
Probably I'll be fine. But the unwelcome revelation prompted me to think even more about my mortality than usual. What would I do if I found out from the doctor I can't afford to visit that I only had a few days or weeks to live? I would tell my least favorite people in no uncertain terms exactly what I think of them, write a brief list of instructions for what I want done with my corpse, and then relax and look forward to never having to worry about money again. I have no fear of death. None whatsoever. I do have a considerable fear of death being preceded by protracted high levels of pain, but the actual prospect of transitioning out of this craphole into a far better plane of existence is a happy one. I think about it at least once a day. Every morning, and I do mean every morning, I wake up so exhausted that I fantasize about slipping into oblivion so I don't have to get up or open my eyes. Meanwhile President Russell M. Nelson, who turns 95 tomorrow, says "I can hardly wait to bounce out of bed each morning."
Maybe on resurrection morning, for the first time, I won't wake up more tired than when I went to bed. I read all about resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 this week with a study group, and was touched by the entire chapter but particularly verse 19: "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable." If I believed that this life was all I'm going to get, I certainly wouldn't tolerate it for another moment. And my life isn't even that bad in the big scheme of things, but it's completely not worth drudging through if I'm not going to be compensated at some point.
I was struck also, for related reasons, by this comment from an anonymous twelve-year-old who's recently decided to spend his one and only life drive-by trolling the Deseret News Facebook page. In its few sentences, wisely ignoring the centuries of Christian theologians and philosophers whose prior musings on the subject would only bog him down in semantics and critical thinking, and refusing to be baited into actually engaging with or demonstrating the slightest cognizance of the contents of the article on which he posted it, he undertook to singlehandedly once and for all resolve an issue that lesser minds have debated for as long as they've grasped their own mortality. Behold:
I'm not sure which he needs more - the gospel of Jesus Christ, or a grasp of basic English grammar. And what kind of responses, I have to wonder, do such simpletons think their asinine comments are going to trigger from the faithful? "Oh, you mean to tell me there's suffering in the world? I had no idea! That completely disproves my heartfelt beliefs in a higher power, which were entirely contingent on my misconception that the world was made of rainbows and butterflies, and on my never having considered the problem of evil until just now, thanks to you, you brilliant free thinker, you! This also explains the mystery of why the least prosperous nations in the world have the lowest levels of religiosity, except actually the opposite of that is true, but who cares because reasons!" That's what I'm going to say the next time I accidentally read such mindless blathering from one of these jackasses.
Also, "cult members"? I've never been called that before, and it really hurts. Really.
To my shame, though, I must admit that I took a couple minutes to actually look at his page. This is his cover photo:
I guess the implication is that God can't exist because stars exist? Or something?
If the worldview he's proselyting for is correct, then the existence of life, let alone sapient life, is a tragic accident of astronomical proportions. Even the happiest life on this planet is a pointless existential nightmare from which one is only released by the endless and inescapable void of death. There is no ultimate justice. Nobody ever really gets what they deserve, for good or evil. Any and all "lasting" achievements that people may focus on to delude themselves that it's worth it anyway, that they can take comfort in collective progress and some cheap bullcrap counterfeit of immortality, will die with the human race in a couple centuries at most, to say nothing of the eventual demise of the entire known universe. If I believed this, I would also believe that my only rational course of action as a thinking person would be to kill myself and escape the nightmare as soon as possible, and that's exactly what I would do.
I'm not suggesting for a moment that I think atheists, either those who coexist in mutual respect like adults or those who spend their pathetic lives taking personal offense at other people's sense of purpose, should kill themselves. I'm just being honest about what the problem of evil looks like to me. In pretending that theists are the ones who can't solve it, Mr. Delusional has got it exactly backwards.
Dr. Daniel C. Peterson said it very well: "Most of the world's population, historically and still today, does not live, well fed and well traveled, to a placid old age surrounded by creature comforts. Most of the world has been and is like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the slums of Cairo, the backward rural villages of India, the famine-ridden deserts of northeastern Africa, the war-ravaged towns of the southern Sudan and of Rwanda. If there is going to be a truly happy ending for the millions upon millions of those whose lives have been blighted by torture, starvation, disease, rape, and murder, that ending will have to come in a future life. And such a future life seems to require a God.
"Yes, the problem of evil is a huge one, but to give up on God is to give evil the final say. It is to admit that child rapists and murderers dictate the final chapters in the lives of their terrified and agonized victims; that Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot really did triumph, forever, over the millions they slaughtered; that, in the rotting corpses of Darfur and Iraqi Kurdistan, we see the final, definitive chapter of thousands of lives; that there is, really, no hope for those whose health is in irreversible decline; that every human relationship ends in death, if not before.
"This would not be good news, and I see no compelling reason to accept it. In fact, I see numerous persuasive reasons to reject the claim. But that is a subject not just for another occasion but, necessarily, for a great number of other occasions."
I love these words, even if the God I depend on for this hope is the same guy who thought it was a good idea to invent mosquitoes and West Nile virus.
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About the Author
C. Randall Nicholson is a white cisgender male and a Latter-day Saint, so you can hate him without guilt, but he's also autistic, so you can't. Unless you're an anti-vaxxer, in which case the feeling is mutual. This blog is where he periodically rants about life, the universe, and/or everything.