January 15, 2014

Existential Questions, Like Can a Slim Jim Go Bad?

Thank God the Internet has answers to questions like Can Slim Jims go bad?

The half-eaten one in my desk, two months old, probably is best to pass up.


I rather appreciate our town's desire to produce history where little to none exists: I have had a similar issue with my own genealogical history given the paucity of stories.

The town is named for land speculator, a John Hilliard. Around 1860 he realized there would be a railroad going from Columbus to Plain City, a distance of maybe twenty miles, and so he bought land where apparently there would be a station. The tiny village was known as Hilliard's Station until it became Hilliard's until, about 40 years ago, it became Hilliard.

I asked a local historian if there was something special about how John Hilliard chose this town, hoping for some story that set this land apart, made it special, like maybe it was an old Indian gathering place or that some natural wonder was around then. I was hoping for too much; the guide said he didn't know. Maybe it was chosen randomly.

But the funny thing about history is you can always go deeper. John Steinbeck writes of the dry country east of Salinas, California in a novel:
“My father bored a well. The drill came up first with topsoil and then with gravel and then with white sea sand full of shells and even pieces of whalebone. There were twenty feet of sand and then black earth again, and even a piece of redwood, that imperishable wood that does not rot. Before the inland sea the valley must have been a forest. And those things had happened right under our feet. And it seemed to me sometimes at night I could feel both the sea and the redwood forest before it.”

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Sampled a bit of my old favorite novel, Steinbeck's East of Eden. How delicious the prose and how different it felt now! Last read in 2003, a lot of water has gone over the bridge and like Chesterton's Orthodoxy which revealed whole new vistas upon a second read I suspect Eden would prove likewise. As a reviewer on Goodreads put it: "This is at the very top of my list of favorite books. This book is a friend that needs to be revisited after a while. Steinbeck at his absolute best."

I couldn't resist the tug of the new, the novel as it were. And so I got another of us, The Winter of Our Discontent, and started reading though I tend to doubt that lightening will strike twice. It's not as lyrical for sure. But I feel like I want to give it a try if only because there is something in Steinbeck that is very appealing to me and I'm interested in him and what he wrote.

But still I'm gonna have to get East of Eden and re-read to discern how my reaction has changed. 2003 was so much before: before the mini “fame” of blogging, before the years of bingo, before middle age. I was practically newly married at that point.

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The seasons are instructive should I ponder them. Today I looked at my weather app to see what time the sun rises: 7:51am. I thought “isn't it time for an earlier rise?” but then recalled the great break with the sun and how long that takes to be “healed”. It feels like it's been awhile since the equinox of 12/21; so often I tend to measure things in terms of weeks when things often take months, years or lifetimes.

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Article in Catholic World Register addresses that familiar ache, that of wondering why God left so much to human freedom (including, for example, the ability to combat human disease): “God did not, in creation, give us all the solutions. He gave us brains, hands, and imagination to figure it out for ourselves, a much greater manifestation of divine wisdom.”

Kind of unsatisfying answer: it's easy to say God gave us brains though it took centuries and many great minds to come up with the solution to what caused plague, to use one example. “God gave us brains,” suggests a problem like me trying to decide the best commuting route to work or solving a crossword puzzle.

But that seems like the same issue played out societally as well: how much government should give to the poor, say, in order to help them rather than make them dependent and enslaved.

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Listening to two people I much admire - Peggy Noonan and Cardinal Dolan - I was struck by Noonan's response to the Cardinal's question as to where she feels the Church is falling down. She says that there's this unbelievable richness of inspiration of stories of the saints and these stories are so rarely told now in churches. “They would make great movies!” she said. And I immediately thought how the only thing my stepson was attracted to as far as the Catholic Church goes was the stories of the saints. The only religious book he borrowed from my library was a book on the saints. People long for heroes in this anti-heroic age and the Church is an institution with plenty of them. (Such as Emily Cavins' well-written story of St. Kateri.)

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