In the early spring the two of us took long walks. We’d start down Wells St. and cross Albany Road then cut between the Historic Deerfield museum and a low cornfield. At the end of the field the path narrowed and dropped sharply over an embankment. My dad moved down it slowly and I matched his pace in case he slipped. We’d walk along the edge of the playing fields and cross through a strip of dark forest into the far fields. He talked about the new house in Hatfield and the kitchen table he was refinishing. He talked about teaching and coaching next year. He talked about my sister and my mother and our cat Finnegan. I listened and walked past the fertile mud along the creek bed.
I watched this debate between Christopher Hitchens and WIlliam Lane Craig. Hitchens (who died this past December) speaks in measured tones about his atheist beliefs and pokes & prods at the Christian theology of his counterpart. He is logical & careful to a fault, never overextending his line of questioning nor making any grand claims about the benefits of atheism. Craig quotes the Bible and powers forward without hesitation. Hitchens embraces our unknown origins and undefined purpose. Craig circumscribes it with chapter & verse. They are a study in contrasts.
The promise of religion surfaces during hard times. It tells us that our losses, however terrible, are not without purpose. The reasoning may be beyond our understanding but faith dictates that there is a system and maybe even a plan. It’s simple and reassuring but it’s not life. Life is nature and nature is the euphoric spinning of innumerable imperfect gears. It flows and lurches and expands without judgement. It plagues crops and watches mockingbirds die with absolute cosmic indifference. It pushes thin seedlings up through the river silt left by flooding. It thaws the ice and runs the rivers and warms the late April air. It grows wild without plan or purpose, running thick creepers over a rusted thresher, a new canopy over barren trees, a yellow glaze of dandelions in a cracked parking lot. It grows cancer cells in the brains of those we love most. So it goes. It is chaotic and sometimes terrible. It is unavoidably real. It is beautiful beyond compare.