Tag Archives: Absurdity

Billy’s Miracle

It’s not often a young boy’s dog dies twice in the same day. I felt sorry for him, just five years old, bowing his feathery yellow bowl-cut hair over the little retriever pup in his hands. They were both the same shade of yellow, the boy and his dog, like they were color-coded to be together. For a little while it was hard to argue that whoever colored them yellow didn’t have a plan for them. That was the consensus that seemed to have dominated until a few minutes ago.

The story was this –  Little Billy had gotten his dog, Skip, yes, those are their names, I double-checked and three other reporters and a little boy’s mother couldn’t all be screwing with me. They were playing in the yard as happy as can be when Billy gets the idea that what would be even more fun than playing catch with his dog would be playing catch with his dog. Skip didn’t seem to mind it at first, who doesn’t like to fly in the air knowing your little boy will be there to break your fall?Unfortunately, Billy’s attention was not terribly far above average for a five-year-old, and neither were his motor skills, and eventually something didn’t go as planned and Skip was on the pavement.

Billy’s father Bob showed me a picture of the accident. He couldn’t explain in terribly satisfactory terms why he thought taking a picture would be a helpful thing to do at that moment, but after what happened next you couldn’t argue with the serendipity of it all. I don’t want to gross you out with the details suffice to say the angle of Skip’s head was not something a dog who was going to survive would be able to manage.

So before I arrived, Billy was crying over the dog and the scene was probably much like now, minus all the reporters. Nobody saw exactly what happened next, but Billy’s mom Doris insisted she heard her son mumble a prayer, and suddenly Skip was standing on his lap licking his face. Doris called her mother, who called the pastor, who called the press, who arrived en masse.

Doris, with some help from her pastor, explained the miracle she had witnessed. It was no small matter when God proved his love in the real world by forgiving the error of a child. I saw the next part. I have the privilege of working for a small newspaper that would rather get the truth than beat another newspaper to the headline, and I wasn’t going to beat the television news crowd anyway.

It took a full thirty minutes before Bob called Billy over from a ways away. As Billy ran toward him, Skip fell out of his hands and ended up between his foot and the curb. This was not the same as falling from high in the air, but when Skip yowled and rushed away he blundered into the wheel of a news truck that was just backing up.

Now I watched as Billy hung his head over the little dog’s body. I had the sense that this was all a stunt that had gone horribly wrong. Maybe with some Photoshop and an overzealous pastor they could fabricate a story like this. Even if it did happen like they said, it’s really not so unbelievable that even with his head bent at a strange angle a healthy young dog could recover. At least compared with divine intervention. It was too bad that in the end poor Skip died anyway. Now his body was thoroughly mangled and Billy was shouting every prayer he knew, and singing church songs when he couldn’t think of any more prayers. The pastor came over and helped him read some Bible verses. I’d never been much of a believer, but it was hard even for me to watch.

I did watch, though. Now that Skip was dead again it wasn’t much of a story, insofar as it was ever a story to begin with, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away. Red-faced and teary-eyed, Billy sang a stammering rendition of “The B-I-B-L-E” to Skip. I was beginning to feel less like a reporter and more like a tasteless gawker. Billy took one tiny hand and mashed it across his face. Without cleaning it he pet the little dog’s body. That’s when it happened.

Standing where I was I got a front-row seat to the unimaginable. Before my eyes, Skip’s crushed foot righted itself. Then his flattened ribs inflated and his ears perked up. Skip stood on his haunches and licked the salty tears off of Billy’s face. I stood and watched as Billy’s eyes grew wide and the smile returned to his face. Billy picked Skip up and squealed with joy. Everything was righted once more, he was forgiven again. Billy stood to his feet and, in one jubilant motion, he threw his dog in the air.

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Personal Religion

We don’t spend a lot of time staring at the cruel, absurd universe

My roommate Nate said something very interesting recently. My friend Greg and I were telling him about the horrible, regressive, anti-consumer, anti-environmental agreements in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and he told us he’d rather not hear about it.  This surprised me because I consider Nate to be the most politically active person I know. Not only does he generally keep up with politics, Nate actively gets involved in political controversies. Most recently he put North Carolina State University’s climate science program on the map and appeared in the News and Observer for arranging the controversial “Shored Up” to be shown at the Hunt Library.

Nate succinctly explained that if he could not expect to have any effect on an event happening in the world, its only value to him is the effect it has on him. Therefore, learning of a depressing, awful deal like the TPP has only the effect of making it more difficult for him to believe in a generally good world, making him stressed and less hopeful, and may even hurt his ability to affect the parts of the world he can change.

This is tremendously interesting to me because it ties in neatly with a concept I’ve been considering that I call “personal religion.” Here I define a “religion” as any belief having intrinsic value outside its truth or falsehood. An organized religion such as Christianity has various beliefs that, irrelevant of whether they are fact or fiction  have enormous effects on both the world at large and their believers.

I define a personal religion as a religion, as defined above, that an individual keeps for his or her emotional benefit, whether knowingly or not. I suspect that everyone has personal religion. Athletes believe that their team will be the team to win the next game. Entrepreneurs believe that their struggling company is imminently close to a breakthrough. Parents believe in their hearts that their children will grow up to be successful and happy. A cancer patient believes that his chemotherapy will send his tumor into remission. Descartes might agree that we all choose to believe that what we experience every day is truly reality. Nate chooses to believe that the world is generally a good place, emotionally if not intellectually, which I think is why he prefers to avoid bad news when he can help it. One of my personal religions I share with the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

In the vast majority of cases, our religions harm no-one. They are merely the tools we use to cope with the uncertainty in our lives. Just as our more mundane earthly religions reassure us and help us through this life,  belief in the supernatural, in life after death, helps us not to fear the next. I personally like to entertain a personal religion of reincarnation, or even an admittedly absurd faith in the imminent technological singularity which will grant me immortality, rather than torment myself with my inevitable demise.

Did you notice that I admit the absurdity of my own belief? F. Scott Fitzgerald said “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”  A motivated entrepreneur believes in his business, but a wise one hedges his bets. An aspiring actor believes she will make the big time, but gets a technical degree to fall back on. The cancer patient writes his will.

Religion is a wonderful and beautiful shield that protects us from the cruel absurdity of the universe. But when it comes to making decisions, we should rely on our own understanding. Our decisions that affect ourselves and other people should be based on the evidence that we see in front of us, be it an umpteenth audition failure, an economic downturn, or the results of a cancer screening. What we want to be true is often different from what is. Sometimes the cost of avoiding the truth is greater than the cost of staring the universe in the face in all its absurd cruelty.

Fortunately, though, it usually isn’t. Nate, for example, can easily ignore the TPP if it makes him uncomfortable because it’s not likely he’d be able to do much about it individually anyway. Also, I can keep denying that I’ll ever die for decades to come! I’ll see y’all at the technological singularity, when we’ll be able to scan our brains and replicate them in software. I look forward to the day when I’ll live forever as a free-roaming artificial intelligence on the Internet!