I hope you're enjoying the happiest winter solstice season ever.
And if you found transcendent joy dancing naked out in the woods during last night's total lunar eclipse, well, so much the better.
Personally, I don't dance. I may sway a bit in a strong wind, but you're more likely to see the Empire State Building doing a tango or a waltz or even the Funky Chicken than you are me.
As for being naked in the wintry woods, ah, that's even less likely. It's cold and snowy out there! And I happen to have been born fully clothed.
What I did instead to celebrate the season was attend my local humanist group's annual winter solstice banquet.
It was held Saturday night in a building with central heating.
Dan Barker was the guest speaker.
I've written about Dan numerous times in my old OD diary. The entry I posted on Nov 19, 2008 is one example that pretty much summarizes what this co-president of The Freedom From Religion Foundation said to the crowd of about 100 Ohio humanists on Saturday night. Hearing him in person and talking to him a bit afterwards for the first time ever only raised my already high opinion of the man.
If I were writing this for my old diary, I would now describe and comment upon exactly what he said at some length. Instead, I'll just point you to Amazon's description of his latest book, Godless: How an Evangelical Preacher Became One of America's Leading Atheists, and encourage you to get to know this guy and his thoughts better at your convenience.
As compelling as Barker and his story is, however, I have to say that I personally found my mind drifting as he spoke. I'd heard it all in one form or another many times before. It's not as if he's come up with any new reasons for rejecting theism - or that he has to. The old reasons are more than adequate. And it's not as if his life story offers any short-cuts we can share with those like him who start off in a small, windowless Christian cell and gradually chisel their way out into the fresh air and light of rationalism.
No one can go through the puberty stage of philosophical maturation for us.
And as encouraging as it might be to know that others can and are successfully going through that stage every day, I long ago stopped finding the step-by-step descriptions of that evolution the most fascinating of stories....
So, my mind drifted.
In many directions, to many things.
At some point I noticed that Dan was speaking in front of curtainless windows. The cold black night on the other side of those windows had transformed them into a set of imperfect mirrors.
Mirrors that offered a ghostly, funhouse reflection of the room I was in and of all the people around me.
It was clearly a banquet room, with decorative lights and food and servers, but it was also something else: A Proustian reminder of the first banquet room I was ever in, circa 1965.
I was maybe 6 years old at the time. The neighbor lady who attempted to keep me out of trouble between the time I got out of school and the time my mother came home from work occasionally needed to run a few errands while I was officially her responsibility, so naturally I was required to go along however much I might have preferred to stay behind and build a new and better world out of Legos instead.
At least two or three times, these errands involved visiting Toledo's very own Moose Lodge.
Here are two photos of that Lodge, both taken by an unknown photographer at about the time I would have visited:
My neighbor and I lived less than 10 minutes away from this near-downtown structure, so similar to the miles and miles of slowly decaying structures that lined both sides of so many of the streets I traveled back then. (In retrospect, it seems that a tide of prosperity had washed over Toledo around 1920, then gone out, never to return. The flotsam and jetsam left behind has been rotting away and complicating the lives of countless squirrels ever since.)
I'm not sure where my neighbor may have parked. My memories seem to always begin with our entering through the gray-blue front door in the exact center of the front of the building. I think it had a round glass window in its upper half. Maybe two doors with two windows. I *know* the door (the one on the right, if there was indeed two) had an official Moose decal in the lower right portion of the glass - an artistically irresistible rendition of a moose head projecting through a gold circle. For several years I would habitually look for this decal - clearly visible from the street despite its relatively small size - every time I went by on the bus to and from downtown (a not infrequent occurrence in those pre-mall days).
Once the door had been unlocked and my neighbor and I were magically transported to the other side of this moose head, we would go up a dull flight of stairs, turn right, go up another, shorter flight of dull stairs, then find ourselves in Moose Central.
I suppose it must have been what normal mortals called the second floor. I can now only wonder what might have been on the higher levels revealed in the photos.
There seems to have been a restaurant/bar area on the right side of the building. To the left was the banquet hall - which seems to have looked much like a typical elementary school auditorium with an unschool-like balcony or mezzanine level attached.
Like empty theaters between shows (and cemeteries between funerals), both spaces seem to have been inhabited by the unheard echoes of past events and charged with the eternally patient anticipation of future ones.
It seems that my neighbor had gone there to prepare for one of these future events. As near as I can recall, this involved going to the back of the restaurant area, descending a few steps, unlocking a fancy wood door, entering the small but impressively paneled office of the Head Moose, and stocking his desk drawers with liquor....
The second time we visited, the restaurant area was alive with people chatting and mingling (a stark contrast to the so close but still so empty banquet hall). It wasn't all that crowded, and it doesn't seem to have been a very important event, but at least one 20-something woman who may have had a few drinks in her seems to have been using the occasion to talk too loudly to any good-looking male who might have been half-interested in listening to what she had to say. It was while she was talking to one of these passing males that I myself seem to have passed by with my neighbor and discovered how hot the end of a cigarette tip can be when the woman wheeled unexpectedly and the stick of lit tobacco she was holding in her waist-high hand touched my naked arm. I screamed, the woman hastily apologized, and my neighbor and I scurried away - perhaps while the cigarette-smoking woman wondered to her companion of the moment what the hell a kid was doing there in the first place.
The third and final time I visited, there seems to have been a full-scale banquet in progress in The Great Room. I briefly surveyed the scene more or less from ground level while a moose head dully surveyed the scene from a central spot just below the balcony railing. I couldn't quite comprehend why the moose didn't seem as impressed as I was....
Saturday night, I found out.
Saturday night, I was that glassy-eyed moose.
Although the ultra-modern room in a single-story building near the Ohio State campus had little in common architecturally with the lodge I'd visited all those years ago, the time and distance between the two shrunk to zero in my head as Dan Barker finished his presentation and I mingled with the others present.
As a child, I'd looked upon all the trappings that adults surround themselves with when they're officially socializing and I'd felt confused and out of place.
I felt just as confused and out of place Saturday night.
The main difference seems to have been that when I was a child, I had some vague expectation of it all making sense and fitting together someday. That expectation is now gone. In its place is the sense that we humans are all just going through the motions and playing dress up while passing that awkward time between birth and death as best we can.
This is, of course, something I've known and felt for a very long time now, but it's somewhat easy to forget. Fairy tales, comic books, movies, novels, TV shows, and news stories (among many other things) all tend to present me with a much different reality - a reality in which fully formed people with clearly defined motives exchange interesting witticisms and insights with the perfect timing that comes from being carefully crafted by writers and/or editors slaving away for hours and hours. Life as I've known it, in contrast, is an unedited mess of half-formed thoughts and clashing impulses that we absurdly attempt to communicate to those who are busy wondering whether or not the plumber will really show up on time tomorrow.
Oh, I know there are exceptions - that there are novelists like Kafka and playwrights like Ionesco who capture the unbridgeable gap between people as well as between the world as it exists and the world as we would like for it to exist, but... by and large, banquets and other social events are not planned with their point of view in mind. If they were, well, I suppose they wouldn't be planned at all. A social event, after all, seems necessarily predicated upon the possibility of people actually connecting in some way above the level of billiard balls hitting off one another after being sent spinning across a table by random forces.
Or maybe a cash bar is reason enough?
Hmmm, well... as someone for whom alcohol invariably induces a migraine, I guess I'm shit out of luck either way.
In the end, I suppose the quiet, detached stoicism displayed by the moose head I first saw in the Toledo banquet hall so many decades ago is the best way to go.
And not just during banquets or solstice seasons, either.
Though I admit I might be wrong about this.
Suffice it to say that this is something I intend to ask that moose about the very next time I see him.
If you catch up with Ol' Glass Eyes before I do, please be sure to ask him for me.
Just don't expect to find him at his old residence. It was torn down just a few years after I last set foot in it. (I don't think it was torn down *because* I stopped setting foot in it, but... would they really have torn it down had they known I had never left?)
Here's what his old abode looks like now:
No matter how hard I look, I can't seem to see any forwarding address.
Well, let's try again after the glare of the solstice moon has left our eyes for good....