Asaph took our son (hence: Ozman) to the pediatric emergency department at NewYork–Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center. The day before -- a Saturday, of course, since these bad things always happened on weekends -- I had taken him to our pediatrician on the Upper East Side after he had vomited twice in his crib following several days of fever and lethargy. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and given a prescription for antibiotics, even though it was suspected to be viral. Asaph sat with him that afternoon in the filthy and rat-infested playground owned by our negligent and incompetent building management company, the Brodsky Organization. He clung to Asaph silently as they sat watching Israeli children screaming with voiceless uvular fricatives as they ran away from the rats.
The next morning he had seemed worse. I was terrified.
I took our daughter (hence: Mali) to play with her toy stroller at Lincoln Center, my preferred playground, as it was basically free of children and their pathogens.
Mali had had a fever and cough and some vomiting as well, but she had recovered quickly. We spent a lot of time walking up and down stairs with her toy stroller.
The weather got colder and cloudier, and my unease increased. I was in contact with Asaph via my smartphone. He said that the doctors and nurses had said that Ozman was dehydrated and that his blood oxygen levels kept dropping to unacceptably low levels. Asaph had no one to help him. He said that there was a kid in a neighboring room who had two parents and a grandparent there with him, while he had had to ask a hospital employee to go get him an iced coffee.
Our friend Jubal came over to sit with me in the apartment while Mali took her nap. I ate some eggs that I had ordered from a restaurant I didn't like, since they tended to ruin every dish with the addition of an incongruous and unpleasant ingredient.
But these eggs tasted fine.
Hours passed. Jubal left.
At long last, I asked Audra, our paid childminder, if I could bring Mali over to her apartment in Brooklyn so that I could go to be with Asaph and Ozman. I hastily bundled our confused daughter into the stroller along with a half-gallon of organic whole milk.
It was dark and cold as I made my way towards the hospital, through unfamiliar streets in the hospital-filled section of the east side. I found the awkwardly named hospital and made my way to the emergency department.
It was terrible.
Even though this was one of the best hospitals in New York, it was like a vision of hell. My vision of hell, at least.
Asaph sat in a curtained-off area with Ozman, who was screaming in an exhausted manner. He had intravenous fluids being pumped through his hand and was covered with a variety of monitor leads. Every time his blood oxygen level dropped below a certain point, a machine would start blaring and we had to place an oxygen mask on his face, causing him to scream even more.
"He has [respiratory syncytial virus]," said Asaph. "This explains all of the symptoms."
They had just made the decision to admit him overnight, but waiting for a room could take hours, since we needed to be in a special room restricted to children with respiratory syncytial virus. Occasionally Asaph was asked to administer medication with a nebulizer, which also had to be held over his face. He would scream in agony throughout the entire 15 minutes that this procedure took.
I was asked by Asaph to go wash out a cup so that Ozman could drink some juice. I ventured out from behind our curtain into the virus- and bacteria-coated madness. I saw a young girl covered with hives -- obviously a victim of the new rise in food allergies. The child in the curtained-off area next to us was vomiting, also from a food allergy. There was a teen-ager with a broken leg: a reassuring sight, given the circumstances.
I found a filthy-looking restroom and washed out the cup. I couldn't believe I was going to let my son drink from it!
When I got back to Asaph, he said, "No, I said to wash it out at the nurses' station."
I managed to prevent Ozman from ever using the cup anyway.
After another nebulizer session, Ozman fell asleep from exhaustion. Asaph was enraged that we had not been attended to.
A gruff but honest older nursing supervisor came in to tell us that our room was ready upstairs, but that we would have to walk and just carry Ozman up with her, since waiting for "transport" -- which would allow him to stay sleeping on the bed -- would take an additional two hours. It was already nine at night and Asaph had arrived before eight in the morning.
Asaph then started a fight with this nurse, asking why transport couldn't come quicker, since our son had fallen asleep for the first time in hours and hours. I managed to pursuade him to just follow the nurse's instructions.
We got to our dark room, shared with a family with a young baby. Ozman continued to sleep. I noticed that he no longer had a fever.
We had a view of the East River and Roosevelt Island. Asaph immediately closed the curtains.
"Why are you getting rid of the one nice thing about this room?" I yelled, quietly. Although I had read a bit too much Joan Didion to be able to appreciate a hospital room with an East River view without some trepidation.
A pleasant-enough nurse came in to give us a hushed orientation and to take some measures of various physiological statistics from Ozman. I had a look around the department. It wasn't awful, but it certainly wasn't as nice as the hospital in Ohio where my mother had spent her dying days and where my father had had his heart attack and stroke.
We agreed that Asaph would spend the night in the hospital. There was a couch that was big enough for sleeping. I kissed Ozman goodnight and headed out into the cold and dark.
I spent the night on a mat on the floor of the kids' room, leaving the window open. I didn't want to be too comfortable. I exchanged some text messages with Asaph whenever I woke up, which was often.
I headed back over at dawn.
Asaph said that he hadn't been able to sleep, given everything. He had had to climb into the crib with Ozman to keep him from crying. Ozman had vomited once.
"I'm going to work," said Asaph.
Even in a hospital surrounded by doctors and nurses, I was afraid to be alone with our sick son.
We listened to team of doctors deliver the news that our baby roommate had not in fact been having seizures but had just been doing some weird little baby motions. The parents breathed audible sighs of relief. I wondered if they weren't just a bit embarrassed.
The morning without Asaph passed without incident. Ozman and I cuddled. I kept my worried eye on his oxygen numbers.
His intravenous fluids were temporarily removed, and I tried to get him to drink some juice. He only wanted milk, which I worried would increase his phlegm.
The lunch I had selected for him arrived.
He didn't eat any.
I showed him boats as they passed by the window.
"Bye bye, boat" he said, weakly. It was heartbreaking.
Our friend Jubal -- our faithful friend Jubal! -- arrived to sit with me while I held the sleeping Ozman to my chest. He regaled me with stories of his ribald exploits. It was refreshing and entertaining.
Our pediatrician arrived.
"Why didn't you call me?" she scolded. She had only heard about Ozman's sickness through the head of the pediatric practice.
She took out her stethoscope and examined him as he lay.
"He's moving air pretty well!" she said, whatever that meant. She said we just had to wait.
We got a new roommate: a three-year-old with respiratory syncytial virus who was having asthma attacks. He screamed in agony when the nebulizer was used to force him to inhale medicinal mist. I wondered what his parents would think of the assortment of bearded men and no mothers attending our son.
Asaph arrived. The intravenous fluids had to be re-inserted, in order to admininster an antibiotic directly into his veins. As he was screaming, a surly cleaning person asked us to move so that she could mop the floor!
"Can you come back, this isn't a good time," asked an incredulous Asaph.
She looked at him with a hatred I had only seen during my time in the divided Bosnian city of Gornji Vakuf-Uskoplje in 1997.
I left Asaph, Jubal, and Ozman and went home.
I slept on the mat on the floor with the window open again.
I walked across the park the next morning.
My stomach was full of dread. My heart was full of lead. My brain was full of awkward and forced rhymes.
I noticed that the room had many spots that were not clean at all. I found a product in the restroom and started using it.
There was something like dried blood on the monitor stand, and something like dried vomit on the crib. I was very afraid of Clostridium difficile, since Ozman was on antibiotics, although I had read that Clostridium difficile wasn't so bad when it afflicted children.
At one point our roommate was being offered snack crackers in the shape of goldfish by his mother and father. Ozman perked up upon overhearing.
"Goldfish?" he asked, sweetly.
The mother of our roommate gave us some, although Ozman didn't eat any.
As Ozman slept, I sat reading and watching his oxygen monitor.
Although it was generally in the good range, sometimes it would drop down to an unacceptable level. It filled me with anguish.
A doctor came in.
"We are sending you home!" she said.
I was happy, since this hospital -- the best in New York for children -- was filthy. But I was worried about his fluctuating blood oxygen levels and his reluctance to eat, and especially to drink.
Asaph arrived and we took a taxicab to the west.
I went to work. I told my story to my department. Many had children, so they were simultaneously sympathetic and nonchalant.
I have been re-seated in the Budget section of the organization, away from my colleagues and supervised persons. I was a foreign object among them. They arrived at work long before I arrived and departed long after I left, with the exception of one Russo-Kazakh-ish woman who had children, and an overwhelmingly stylish Afro-French woman who also had children.
I insisted on taking Ozman to our pediatrician the next day. The best thing that came out of that visit was the acquisition of her mobile phone number.
"Let's just wait and see. This virus takes a while to run its course."
Ozman still didn't drink enough and still acted somewhat listless. I went to bed worried that he would vomit again.
And then, he did!
I was reminded of the 2001 American neo-noir film Mulholland Drive, in which a man has a dream about a monster behind a dumpster, and then when the dumpster is investigated, the monster appears! My thoughts had magical powers! I was worried that everything I thought about would come true.
I started trying to imagine things that were physically impossible.
Maybe the kids will spontaneously explode with the strength of a supernova, I forced myself to think.
Let's see that happen, I thought.
Asaph cleaned up the vomit.
And then Ozman vomited again!
I tried harder to imagine impossible things. Maybe the children will turn into black holes that will swallow up the universe, I made myself think.
I went to sleep in the kids' room with Mali. She woke up and saw me.
"Daddy sleeping?" she asked.
"Yes, daddy sleeping," I said.
"Close eyes," she said.
"Close eyes," I said.
I didn't. I got up every 20 minutes or so all night to go check on Ozman and Asaph. Every time I checked they were sleeping peacefully.
Evidently I fell asleep for an uninterrupted hour during which Ozman got up and demanded milk, and he and Asaph played a bit.
Ozman improved slowly. He slept a lot and moped slowly about the apartment. And he had gotten so skinny it was disturbing to see his body.
He finally started acting better.
It was a relief.
I still felt very scared.
We had arranged to take an overnight trip to the Hudson Valley in honor of my birthday. Amazingly, we went ahead with it!
I couldn't imagine a mother doing that: leaving her kids overnight less than a week after they had come out of the hospital. I knew mothers that hadn't left their kids overnight for years.
But we did it. All the time.
Were we awful parents? I thought so.
We dropped the kids off at Audra's apartment in Brooklyn.
After we crossed Triborough Bridge, we came upon an overturned car. There were no emergency vehicles or police present yet, and there were many persons standing around acting in various ineffectual capacities.
Asaph pulled our rental car over and took off his seat belt.
"What are you doing?" I asked as he opened the door.
"People might be hurt!" he yelled. He bounded towards the accident like some sort of a super hero. I sat in the car like a spoiled and selfish brat, listening to public radio.
Later I read a story about someone who was killed while trying to help the victims of a traffic accident.
An ambulance arrived. Asaph returned to the car, and we drove away. The occupants of the car were all unharmed, but they just couldn't get out.
"I told them to turn off the ignition," he said. "At least I remembered something."
We encountered heavy fog as we headed north.
We arrived at a noted sculpture park.
It seemed like everyone visiting was a non-heterosexual male.
It was hard to take a photo without some ugly sculpture intruding. I loved the park, but I didn't like much of the sculpture.
I didn't like most contemporary visual art.
We walked by one that was fine.
Two non-heterosexual acquaintances of ours rode by on bicycles! We greeted one another.
They had planned a trip nearly identical to ours, although they had dinner reservations in a fancier restaurant and hotel reservations in a fancier hotel.
We said goodbye, with the acknowledgement that we would probably see each other that night in the gentrified town that was our final destination.
After walking some more we ran into additional non-heterosexual male acquaintances!
We had not chosen a very original excursion for our demographic cohort.
We finally came upon one of the only works of art at the park of which I approved.
I was glad.
We continued on our way up the Hudson, stopping briefly at a coffee shop in which I left my jacket, which was in fact a jacket I had purchased as a gift for Asaph from a Swedish workwear company but had taken back from him owing to insufficient appreciation and use.
After much time driving through fog, and going past signs for Coxsackie, a virus our children may have had once, we arrived in the dark at our bed-and-breakfast.
It was not quite the style with which I was most enamoured, but it was fine -- much more than fine. A thin woman in early old age with a diluted British accent read us the rules and showed us around the place.
We went up to our room to wash and rest. There was a gigantic shower room, despite otherwise accurate Victorian period detail.
Then we headed down to the gentrified town to meet someone for drinks. Asaph had arranged this drinks meet-up.
This was a person we had been slight acquaintances with for years. (I had photographed him holding a live snake at an excessively loud outdoor dance party on Fire Island in 2009.) He had a bit of a reputation as a Ladies' Man, Man's Man, Man About Town -- a non-heterosexual Lothario or Don Juan -- his good looks and masculine and manly bearing causing him to be exempt from the kind of scorn an equally promiscuous but more feminine non-heterosexual male might face.
We met at a cozy restaurant that appealed to so-called locavores, or persons attempting to only eat foods grown or hunted or gathered in a local area, however defined.
It was an inviting place, with a roaring fire and comforting non-modern furnishments. Our hostess was a bit of a -- despite my hatred of the word, there was no better way to express the impression -- hipster, with a tattoo showing through a vintage velveteen dress. We were seated in front of the fire and given a menu for expensive and complicated cocktails while we waited for the man we were waiting for.
He arrived not too late. Even though it was raining and relatively cold -- but not freezing -- he was only wearing a t-shirt and a non-ironic baseball-style cap (and heavy work trousers; I did not examine his footwear). He had the appearance of someone who had spent the day in manual labor, although he had moved to this gentrified town to work on a business plan involving the internet and technology and whatnot.
He had gotten more muscular, and stouter, owing to daily -- or more than daily -- participation in a popular strength and conditioning program and to the increased consumption of locally raised beef and lamb. He had also grown a thick and full and dark beard. As he described his life in the gentrified town, with a mixture of self-assurance, giddiness, and swagger, I realized that many persons might consider this man to be a perfect specimen of the kind of man he was.
I didn't talk much. When I offered a nervous observation related to my new role as a parent, he laughed and said, "Whoa, did you forget to take your [a popular brand of benzodiazepine] today?"
He was kind of laughing at me.
I just wanted to run away and flop down on a bed crying and hiccuping.
We had to go to our dinner reservations at a competing locavore restaurant, so we said our farewells and wished him luck.
We headed across the street.
This restaurant was quiet, empty, and slightly too bright and cold. Even though our locally gathered and hunted food was delicious, it was hard not to feel some disappointment that we had left the warm and titillating sensuality of our previous engagement with that man in exchange for silence and crispy kale salad by ourselves.
We took a walk around when we were done eating. It was drizzling out, and since it was a Sunday night, the streets were mostly deserted, apart from the odd mentally ill person.
I appreciated some touches that had required thought and effort, notably a cartoon whale logotype used as the symbol for the town.
We headed back to the bed-and-breakfast.
I slept deeply and soundly.
In the morning the rain had passed.
We got up and got ready.
I noticed a stinkbug in the bathroom. This pest was becoming ubiquitous!
The diluted British woman served us breakfast, which was tasty enough. There was another table of guests with whom we exchanged not a single pleasantry.
"It would be nice to bring the kids here," said Asaph.
"You can't bring kids to a bed-and-breakfast! There's usually an age minimum, like 12, or even 18!" I screamed quietly.
I called the dilluted British woman over.
"Where can families stay in this area that's slightly scenic and or charming?" I asked.
"Well, I usually tell people with children to stay at the [mid-priced hotel chain offering limited services and a reasonable price] in Coxsackie," she said. "At least their parking lot is surrounded by trees. The bed-and-breakfasts don't accept children under 12."
I thanked her and smirked at Asaph, who looked annoyed. Usually it wasn't good when I was right.
We went back up to the room for final preparations.
We had been pleasantly accommodated.
We went back down to the gentrified town for one last look.
As we drove along the main street, I was shocked at the extent of the gentrification. One could almost imagine one to be in Brooklyn or San Francisco, given the number of trendy shops and restaurants and artisanal pickleries.
We started to drive to the wealthy and unfriendly Hollandish town of Rhinebeck.
We passed a rural Episcopal Church.
One learned something new every day.
We arrived at stern and prosperous Rhinebeck, known for its riches and its Reformed population.
A Netherlandish coffee-shop owner wouldn't allow me to use his restroom (even though he disingenuously called me his "friend"), so I had to go make waters inside The Beekman Arms, America's oldest continuously operated hotel.
I pretended to be interested in a room.
We walked about a bit. It was a beautiful day to be in this lovely and extremely boring wealthy village.
We walked by a Reformed church before we drove away.
We headed to Montgomery Place, an early 19th-century estate. Asaph had located it using the internet.
It had extremely extensive and immaculate grounds, open to the public for no charge.
I felt that I was in an unusual location.
The house was figuratively and literally shuttered for the winter season.
We marched about.
I was amazed at and by the beauty and lack of litter.
We came across an old bathhouse. An untoward proposition was presented and then immediately rejected.
I thought about the man from the previous night and wondered what he was doing at that moment. Something manly, no doubt. Or maybe showering.
We said good-bye to the estate.
I stopped in their free restroom, in which an alarming warning was posted.
We passed another rural Episcopal church (something unheard-of in the Midwest) on our way to the Dutchess County hamlet of Annandale-on-Hudson.
We arrived at the town, the home of a private liberal arts college that was formerly affiliated with the Episcopal Church. But it lacked the aesthetic cohesion of the formerly Episcopal college where my mother taught for many years.
We had a tour of a much ballyhooed building by an earnest recent graduate.
We slowly drove through the rest of the campus. The students were quite unkempt and unattractive. I saw a young male student with long hair walking without shoes, even though it was not warm outside.
The buildings were an odd mixture of styles, more similar to the non-Episcopal college that I attended in far-northern Ohio than to the Episcopal college where my mother taught in the northern part of central Ohio.
Asaph waited in the car while I walked out to have a view of the river, passing an elderly tree.
I walked through a small formal garden that had been shrouded for winter.
I looked back at a building that predated modernity.
We left, slightly disappointed.
We had to cross back over the river to go to the town where I had mislaid my jacket.
We then crossed back again.
Our 2013 vacation had come to an end, 30 hours after it had begun.
I received my results from a privately held personal genomics and biotechnology company based in Mountain View, California that provided genetic testing before they had been blocked from revealing health data by the United States Food and Drug Administration.
I was shocked to see that I was in fact genetically resistant to Norovirus! After all that! My scrupulous cleaning during the outbreak in July had been all for nothing!
I looked at my ancestry results. I had been hoping for a surprise -- maybe I was part Inuit or Cherkess or Malagasy!
We went to a party in celebration of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah (חנוכה) at the non-denominational synagogue (συναγωγή) of which we were members, even though it wasn't yet Hanukkah.
I saw a vintage poster that had an unintended ironic aspect.
The party was fun enough, although I noticed that the potato pancakes that I was devouring contained absolutely no identifiable pieces of potato. They must have been made with potato flour.
That was also a bit disappointing.
The potato pancakes reminded me of this part of the Book of Samuel:
And it came to pass after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her. And Amnon was so vexed, that he fell sick for his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin; and Amnon thought it hard for him to do anything to her. But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah David's brother: and Jonadab was a very subtil man. And he said unto him, Why art thou, being the king's son, lean from day to day? wilt thou not tell me? And Amnon said unto him, I love Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister. And Jonadab said unto him, Lay thee down on thy bed, and make thyself sick: and when thy father cometh to see thee, say unto him, I pray thee, let my sister Tamar come, and give me meat, and dress the meat in my sight, that I may see it, and eat it at her hand. So Amnon lay down, and made himself sick: and when the king was come to see him, Amnon said unto the king, I pray thee, let Tamar my sister come, and make me a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat at her hand. Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, Go now to thy brother Amnon's house, and dress him meat. So Tamar went to her brother Amnon's house; and he was laid down. And she took flour, and kneaded it, and made cakes in his sight, and did bake the cakes. And she took a pan, and poured them out before him; but he refused to eat. And Amnon said, Have out all men from me. And they went out every man from him. And Amnon said unto Tamar, Bring the meat into the chamber, that I may eat of thine hand. And Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. And when she had brought them unto him to eat, he took hold of her, and said unto her, Come lie with me, my sister. And she answered him, Nay, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel: do not thou this folly. And I, whither shall I cause my shame to go? and as for thee, thou shalt be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray thee, speak unto the king; for he will not withhold me from thee. Howbeit he would not hearken unto her voice: but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay with her. Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, Arise, be gone. And she said unto him, There is no cause: this evil in sending me away is greater than the other that thou didst unto me. But he would not hearken unto her. Then he called his servant that ministered unto him, and said, Put now this woman out from me, and bolt the door after her. And she had a garment of divers colours upon her: for with such robes were the king's daughters that were virgins apparelled. Then his servant brought her out, and bolted the door after her. And Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of divers colours that was on her, and laid her hand on her head, and went on crying.
Our kids were going to start going to a day-care center twice a week. We were packing up their lunches and putting on their coats when Asaph received a phone call. He used the speaker function to answer. There was a breathless and breathy voice speaking in rapid Hebrew.
Asaph's 103-year-old grandmother had died in Israel.
The funeral would be held the next day, in keeping with the custom of the Jews, so Asaph had to immediately go to the airport to try to get on a flight.
Because I had been in a kind or type of state ever since Ozman had been hospitalized, my first thought was not sympathy for Asaph or his father, but rather panic at the thought of being alone with the kids for several days.
I had been in a state, see?
Since Audra wouldn't agree to come live in our apartment, I asked her to take the kids overnight.
I felt awful.
I went to fetch them the next day for Thanksgiving.
A friend who lived near us offered to have the kids and me over for the meal. I was grateful.
All of the other guests were Israelis unfamiliar with the holiday, so there was a half-hearted attempt to explain the traditions and history.
It was slightly awkward. They weren't the loud kind of Israelis; they were the quiet kind.
I paid a Russian woman to come spend the night in the apartment with me, since I was worried that something might happen and I would need help.
"Can't you take care of your own children?" asked a correspondent.
I could, but I had been in a state and didn't feel comfortable being alone with them in the event of an emergency.
I had learned the importance of slack and redundancy in complex systems from Lebanese American essayist, scholar and statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb (نسيم نيقولا نجيب طالب), and raising twins was a complex system.
I had become obsessed with slack and redundancy and had become a fervent opponent of optimization.
The kids spent a couple more nights in Brooklyn with Audra. I went over each night to celebrate the Feast of Lights.
I was reading a book about how the internet was altering our brains.
The night before Asaph was to return, my high-school friend Brian agreed to come spend the night with me and the kids at the apartment, even though he had kids (and a wife) of his own. But his kids were school-aged.
I was grateful that he understood and didn't judge me for my request.
I had been in a state, see?
Asaph arrived early in the morning.
I was pleased to see a book he had bought to read!
That evening we went ahead with a planned party for the Feast of Dedication, even though Asaph had barely slept on his overnight flight.
We invited everyone we knew with kids, and a small selection of hirsute non-heterosexuals.
Asaph had brought back some tacky dreidel-like objects from Israel that played music and projected lights.
I was reminded of the green neon-light-covered mosques of the Levant. No one ever talked about that.
Our apartment got disturbingly and wonderfully crowded. The non-heterosexuals cowered in the kitchen, drinking beer and eating potato pancakes made of actual chunks of potato.
Ozman became slightly obsessed with the nightly candle-lighting.
"Lights!" he would say. "Candles?"
But his pronunciation of "candles" was a bit mangled.
I had a heavy heart on the final night of the festival.
I ended up lighting some random candles the next evening, because Ozman's plaintive calls for "lights" were so heartbreaking.
There was a huge storm in Israel. I monitored it every day, and sometimes every hour, on the internet.
I developed a small mania related to the weather application on my smartphone.
The graphics were beautiful and sometimes clever.
One felt as if one were travelling around the world, just by swiping and tapping.
I thought of Asaph's family.
Then I thought of other places where I knew no one.
Some locations seemed to have pretty unplesant weather.
I realized that we were lucky.
I didn't think that New York ever had "dust" or "smoke" as the weather forecast.
As an additional undeserved birthday present, I was shamefully allowed to spend the night alone in a downtown location.
I woke up with a sore back.
It was very funny, but the language and cultural barrier put Asaph at a huge disadvantage.
There was a terrible mishap involving confusion between "cat litter" and "catheter". I cringed and slouched in my seat.
I went home alone, as Asaph had to go out for alcoholic drinks.
Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete. Modestia vestra nota sit omnibus hominibus: Dominus enim prope est. Nihil solliciti sitis: sed in omni oratione petitiones vestræ innotescant apud Deum. Benedixisti Domine terram tuam: avertisti captivitatem Jacob, I thought.
I went to church for the last Sunday of Advent, since I didn't want to be one of those persons who just showed up at church on Christmas Eve.
There was a lot of Mary this and Mary that.
We took the kids to the unappealing luxury shopping mall nearby on Christmas Eve, so that they could look at the large non-denominational winter decorations. I had heard in a television commercial that winter is the season to bring family together.
Late November through very early January is the season to bring family together, I thought. The war on winter, I thought.
I was too tired to go to Christmas Eve midnight mass. I worried that the kids might get sick in the middle of the night, and then I wouldn't have had any sleep. Slack and redundancy, I thought.
Then Mali threw up in the middle of the night! Just as I had feared! I couldn't believe it!
I went to church in the morning.
I read Marilynne Robinson on the way.
I was happy to be there anyway.
It was a nice day.
Let us look at the matter scientifically. The best evidence must lead us to conclude that we are one remote and marginal consequence of a cosmic explosion. Out of this long cataclysm arose certain elements and atmospheres, which in combination and over time produced, shall we say, New York City, with all it embraces and implies. Well, all right. Imagine accident upon coincidence upon freak, heightened by mysterious phenomena of order and replication, and there you have it. That natural process should have produced complicated animals who exist in vast aggregations is conceivable. But, I submit, that they should be suited to living happily—in vast aggregations or in farming villages or as hermits on the tops of mountains—is a stroke of thinking so remarkable in a supposedly nontheological context that it takes my breath away. Scientifically speaking, we are weird, soft, bigheaded things because we adapted to the mutable world by keeping a great many options open. Biologically speaking, we are without loyalties, as ready to claim an isthmus as a steppe. In our bodies we are utterly more ancient than Hittites and Scythians, survivors of the last swarm of locusts, nerved for the next glaciation. We have left how many cities standing empty? That any condition of life should be natural and satisfactory to us is an idea obviously at odds with our nature as a species, and as clearly at odds with our history. Would not mass contentment be maladaptive? Yet so much of modern life has been taken up with this nightmare project of fitting people to society, in extreme cases hewing and lopping away whole classes and categories. Humankind has adopted and discarded civilization after civilization and remained itself. We have done the worst harm we have ever suffered by acting as if society can or should be stable and fixed and humankind transformed by whatever means to assure that it will be.