Monday, May 28, 2007

Two questions...

...I've been mulling for a while, responses to which always intrigue me when I pose them for my evangelical friends:
  • Why is it that just about the only people who believe in hell are those who believe they aren’t going there?
  • If you discovered that, in fact, there was no afterlife after all—no heaven, hell, purgatory, whatever—that it all ended with one's physical death—would you still be a Christian?
Just wondering.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Next they'll tell us we can go swimming less than an hour after eating

Mothers of my granddaughters, take note: pacifiers, crackers, and blueberries that get dropped on the floor can remain there not five, but thirty seconds before bacteria start swarming over them. And if it's dry food, a kid can wait a full minute before finding her missing bread crust under her chair.

At least that's what student researchers at Connecticut College concluded. Thanks to them, we can all now breathe easier. And eat fumbled food with less angst.

Monday, May 14, 2007

In the final quarter hour...

...of the seventh of May, let it be known that earlier today I hung the first laundry load outside to dry. This event requires itemization: I pulled from the washing machine three pairs of jeans, one sweatshirt, one T-shirt, and 4 pairs of socks, shoveling them all into a 15-year-old but still sturdy wicker laundry basket. To this pile of sodden but clean clothes I added the stainless steel dogfood dish demoted to clothes pins container, which was about to see its first action in 7 months. I tromped it all upstairs and outside into a delectable combination of spring and summer, and clipped everything on the clothesline, which has hung naked since last October. And just now I check the hourly temp records for the city, and discover that it hit 80 degrees around 5pm.

This is cosmically appropriate: that the first outdoor laundry hanging day is also the warmest day of the year so far. I feel attuned to the universe.

Which is looking at midnight now different from a couple months ago. Orion's bright belt dips out of sight in the west almost at dusk now...Saturn has Leo on a leash for a couple years, and even that springtime constellation is wheeling westward now...but oh, Jupiter rises in the southeast in all its piercing regal luminence not long after Venus sets. (Although, as the neighborhood trees in that direction leaf out more, that planet will be harder and harder to see this low.) And the red giant Arcturus rules the zenith these nights.

I wonder if my Grandpa Mac—Chester Chambers McLaughlin, dairy farmer of Clackamas County—ever rose from his desk where he did the paperwork required of him as clerk of Milwaukie High School (a volunteer position he held for 20-some years), swung open the back screen door of his Lake Road house, and stepped outside into a balmy May night, in 1937, when he was my age now. I wonder if he looked up and traced the passing of the night and of the season, and imagined the passing of his life. Or wondered himself if his great-grandfather, enroute from Ulster to Philadelphia, ever left his sleeping family in a brig’s cramped, stagnant passenger quarters and went above to the main deck on a mild mid-Atlantic night in 1814 and looked up at oceanic stars and wondered what the hell he was thinking, bringing his family—including a 2-year-old son—to God knows what. Squeezed as they had been in Northern Ireland between their Scottish Presbyterian roots and the local Catholic Irish rebel rumblings, was this overseas migration worse? Would they have been better off assaulted by political upheaval and inconstant potato crops than by moving to another world altogether—an infant republic already engaged in a second war with its parent nation?

That 2-year-old boy was my great-great-grandfather William McLaughlin, and whether he learned its name or not, Arcturus must have become a familiar springtime companion to him as he grew up a farmer and moved from Pennsylvania to Missouri (gradually—he settled for a while in every state in between those two places). Springtime meant long hours disking and plowing and sowing deep into dusk, until, twisting in the leafspring seat, he could no longer see the furrow he was cutting. Arcturus dominated the high eastern sky in many a May twilight as he turned his team toward the barn.

Stars and dirty laundry will outlive us all. It's the stars I'll pass on to my granddaughters, starting with Arcturus.