I Dreamed You Died Thursday Night

Last Thursday night, I dreamed that you died.

I don’t know you. You don’t know me – and now you probably don’t want to.

But you’re wondering, how did I know it was you?

I know you died because everybody died. Everybody on earth and the handful of people in orbit too.

Maybe the next thing you’re wondering is, how did we all die? And who, if anyone, caused it to happen? (Maybe the Iranians finally got the bomb, and it was a really big bomb – or they started a really big war. But I think not. It seemed to happen faster than that.)

I’ll answer your questions in reverse order.

The how is, I caused it.

Clipped

One barber chair, occupied (by me). One spare, empty. Mirrors everywhere. A damp hair smell, but not hair products; this isn’t a salon. Cut hair on the floor in several hues, mostly white and gray.

Three old guys in padded chairs, waiting. Three identical chairs, empty. No news or sports playing; the four-foot thinscreen on the wall is broken. Its replacement is in the corner, still rolled up in its long, thin Featherwrap™ shipping tube after more than a month.

A fake fireplace, turned off. Fake wood fires seem pointless, when people scarcely remember real ones. A coat rack by the door: two jackets, no hats, one umbrella.

Main Street in the window. Countless e-cars, humming softly as they zoom past, beyond the well-worn sidewalk. A pothole repair robot-truck along the opposite curb, groaning, thumping, gasping, steaming.

A table with magazines, mostly Time: Heritage Edition. Nearly everything else went out of print, what, thirty years ago?

Two Kinds of Christmas, Both Good

Here we are, in the shortest days and longest nights of the year. It’s cold and getting colder — a dark season with less life about it, in some ways, than the warmer, greener months. But we don’t hibernate, and most of us don’t fly south for the winter, though by February we may wonder why not. What we have — Christians and non-Christians alike — is the Christmas season.

There are two basic versions of Christmas, sacred and secular. A few people openly oppose both and do their best to erase them from our public life. Some folks embrace one version but not the other, and are either uninterested in or disdainful of the opposite choice.

I’m here to suggest that both versions are good.

Thou, Lord (a poem)

For Max Olsen (1930-2020)**

Thou, Lord, who groaned in agony
When darkness ruled Gethsemane
And daylight mocked on Calvary,
Whose perfect gift has ransomed me,
O turn my wand’ring heart!

Thou, Lord, who spilt thy blood for me
To answer justice’ stern demands,
That sin might keep no claim on me,
Whose grace is graven on thy hands,
O shrive* my selfish heart!

Books I’ve Read Lately (14 of Them)

Lately I’ve been finishing books I started reading in the last year or two — and enjoyed, but left unfinished. Today I’ll tell you about some of those, plus some books I finished more quickly, without leaving them to languish for months or years.

Meanwhile, the poster child for my problem is still unfinished: Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables (first published in 1862). I got about 150 pages in, loved it, and stopped. I recently restarted from the beginning. I’m further in now, but I still have over 1,200 pages to go; it’s the unabridged translation. I’m still loving it, but it’ll be a while before I can report completion.

Among the books I’ve finished, I read some just to read them. Others I read for research, because I’m attempting, as time permits, to learn the art, craft, and business of writing fiction. I enjoyed most of the books I list below in printed form and the rest as audio books.

After I decided this topic might make a fun blog post, I asked myself why I wanted to write it. There was time enough to wonder; some of my writing languishes unfinished for months, like my reading.

On reflection I don’t think my motive is to dazzle you with the breadth and depth of my reading; I know too many people who read far more than I do to be impressed with myself in this way, or to think you’ll be impressed. Besides, if I were trying to impress you, I’d probably exclude at least two or three of the books I’m about to mention. You’ll know which, I think, when you get to them.

It’s more a matter of my enthusiasm for books in general, for some (not all) of these particular books, and for people who read books. When I read a book, I want to talk about it. You’re welcome to join me.

For Latter-day Saints, the Temple Is for Life Outside the Temple

Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple. Photo courtesy the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at churchofjesuschrist.org.

These thoughts are primarily for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who generally understand what we do in our temples and why, and how the temple connects to the gospel of Jesus Christ as we understand it. In case that’s not you, and you’d still like to make sense of the following, let’s take a few paragraphs first and try to give you a foothold.

The Temple: Quick Background

In ordinary times Latter-day Saints meet for worship every Sunday, on our Sabbath, in the local chapel. (Sometimes we call it a meetinghouse or simply a church.) There are thousands of them scattered around the world; they are thick on the ground in Utah suburbs and cities and parts of neighboring states. In the rural Idaho village where I spent my teen years, we had one post office, no stoplights — and three large Latter-day Saint meetinghouses, including two on the same road, a mile and a half apart.

We have far fewer temples in the world, only about 200. These are closed on Sundays. A Latter-day Saint will go to the temple for his or her own rites only two or three times in a lifetime.

I Made Muffins

What would you say if you were standing at the front door of a nice guy you just met, and it was 6 a.m. and still dark, and you were delivering fresh baked goods he wasn’t expecting, but you hadn’t rung his doorbell yet because you hadn’t figured out what to say, and he opened the door and found you there?

I said, “Here. I made muffins,” and held out a paper bag with two large muffins. They were fresh from the oven.

He took it, smiling faintly. His eyebrows were all the way up to where his hairline might once have been. Now he had no hairline. But he could have looked quite a lot worse. If he’d had an oversized mustache, and little tufts of fur protruding from his ears and nose, he’d have looked like Mr. Nixon, my middle school principal.

That’s what I had thought at the Christmas Eve party, 34 hours earlier. Now I could hardly think at all.