Not long after Nathan died, I had a dream.

It wasn’t just an ordinary dream.  It was more vivid than normal. In it, I was sitting someplace talking with Nathan.  He was clueless. He didn’t know he’d died. (That is something I am quite sure is true.  He never knew.) I was explaining, and he said, “You are shitting me.”

It was quintessential Nathan, exactly perfect.  Eleven years later, I can still see his dream-face, and hear his dream-voice.  It’s very easy for me to think of that dream-conversation as a real event.

I had this same dream, or similar ones, off and on for about a year. They became less frequent over time, and the vividness began to fade.

Since then, I’ve noticed that lots of people think that when you have a dream like this, it’s a sign that the dead person is visiting you, that they are coming to you in your dreams to tell you that they are okay or whatever.

Nathan was not visiting me.

Last night, I had a very short, sudden dream.

I distinctly heard a voice call to me sharply and urgently, “Sal—wake up!”  The voice was clear, just as clear as Nate’s was in those immediate post-death dreams. I knew exactly who it was. I woke up immediately and it all felt so real that I got up and went to check on the wood stove and make sure everything was okay. It was so real and so profound that I was awake for about an hour afterwards.

A common phenomenon among people who live together for a long time is that a surviving person will actually see glimpses of their departed spouse or partner sitting in their favorite chair or standing in the hallway or standing at the sink washing dishes.  They literally see this. They aren’t imagining it or making it up.  Or they hear the voice of their loved one, quite audibly, talking in the next room.

Their brains are creating those images and those sounds. Their brain is putting together the thing they expect to see or hear.  Brains are funny things, and memory is weird as hell.  This is just one of those weird things that it does.

So, did some dead person come to me in my dream and speak to me so clearly?

Uh, no.

The voice was Dave’s and he was sound asleep the whole time.





My initial reaction to reading this was “Good golly, is it possible to mangle the English language any more than that?” and “Would somebody please give Joe some tutoring in the use of prepositional phrases?”

My second reaction was “Well, there’s another threat of bodily harm.”  So I’m putting it here because that’s what it is.  A threat to hurt me, physically hurt me.  Joe wants to hurt me physically because I said mean things on the internet.   I’m sure I called him a “pussy” and a “coward” and therefore he is going to kill me.  That’s what deadly force means.

But then I caught the whole “their (sic) fucking lucky” stuff.

And yes, I am fucking lucky.

Out of all the times and places where I could have been born, I was born in the United States in the twentieth century and I was born white (white privilege is morally wrong but it is real).  I was born to parents who had flaws, for sure, but who believed strongly in providing me with a decent home, good nutrition, medical care when necessary and a good education.

I had to pay for my college education myself, but at no point in my early years did I ever once consider not going.  It was unthinkable.  That would have been like thinking that I might not brush my teeth, or that I might rob a bank.

I am lucky because I managed to ditch Boyfriend A and Boyfriend B, be ditched by Boyfriend C, and then hit the jackpot in the marriage lottery.

I am lucky because Dave and I both have enjoyed good health all our lives thus far. Even if we developed some dire problem now, we’ve spent decades as healthy adults.

I am lucky because my husband has a super-strong work ethic, and was reared by a mother who countenanced no nonsense when it came to pulling your own weight.

I am lucky because we have spent 46 (soon to be 47) years as a partnership of equals, one where my desires and goals and dreams have carried just as much weight as his do.

I am lucky because even though we were only able to produce one child, he was a genius.

I am lucky because even though our one child has died, he was our best friend. He loved us enough to want to spend time with us, and he knew that he was loved in return.

I am lucky because Nathan chose his friends well and they have been beyond good to us in the wake of his death.

I am lucky because Dave and I were able to both retire at a young age, and we face our sunset years with a reasonable level of financial security, thanks in part to the US government (Social Security) and the US economy (our own investments).

I am lucky because due to that early retirement, we have been able to travel a lot, not only all over North America, but also to many foreign countries.

I am lucky because even though I was immersed in a lunatic religion as a youngster, I was able to escape.  Not many people are able to do that. Most remain imprisoned for life.

I am lucky because Dave joined me in the escape from religion.  Many people who leave are faced with the loss of their most precious relationships as a result.

I am lucky because when I come up with hair-brained schemes (“let’s move to Alaska” or “let’s buy a small farm with a milk cow” or “let’s go on four cruises back-to-back”), Dave will join in enthusiastically unless I’ve gone completely off the rails (“let’s go to Atlanta and demonstrate and get put in jail” – I didn’t do that one).  And when he has his own plans (“let’s get a new tractor” or “let’s buy a Freightliner to pull our RV”), I’ve embraced those as well.

I am lucky because both Dave and I were encouraged all our lives to do new things, to cut new paths, to gain knowledge and put it to use, and we did just that.

I am lucky because we get to serve the finest cow in North America.

Some of this luck was of our own creation. But a whole lot of it, probably the majority, came about because we were incredibly fortunate and were simply born to the right people at the right place at the right time.

Yes, I am lucky. So are you.  What is sad is to be born with such fabulous advantages and throw them all away because you refuse to work, refuse to learn, refuse to listen to anyone else, and refuse to progress even slightly, and instead spend your entire precious life looking around for somebody to blame for all your own failings.

Not long after Nathan died, Dave and I went to Washington, DC to a convention of atheists. We, again, were incredibly lucky, because four men were in attendance during that week and they would never get the opportunity to engage personally together again.  Called the “Four Horsemen,” they were Dan Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.

I am lucky because one night there was a cocktail party which included just a few people and Dave and I were in that bunch, which means that we got to meet those four men and have a bit of a conversation with them.

That’s me with Daniel Dennett, who is a very nice guy as well as a very smart one.

Imagine, if you will, the four people on earth who you admire the most, or maybe the four rock bands you adore, or your most loved ball team, and imagine that you get to go meet them personally.  That’s what this was like for me.

I am lucky because during that convention, Richard Dawkins read a much-loved quote from one of his books. I have a copy of the book, and have worn out the page where that quote appears.  The passage gave me comfort in those awful months right after we lost Nate. When Dawkins got up and began to read, I had to put on my sunglasses so people wouldn’t see me crying.

The quote is on the side bar of this blog, but here it is again, because it’s about being lucky.

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?

Richard Dawkins, from Unweaving the Rainbow


The Sale

Yesterday was a bit of a suck day.  In the early morning, while I was doing the milking, Dave was down in the back pasture with a back-hoe guy helping him dig Georgia’s grave.

Right after that, Dave went to pick up a new little piglet.

Isn’t her tail cute?

Piglets are sort of adorable.  Like baby calves.

Here she is, exploring her new digs, with “dig” being a very appropriate word.  We leave a lot of weedy growth in the pig pen for a new pig. They soon root it all away and they enjoy the hell out of doing so.

But notice the open places at the back of her little hut?  You can just barely see that there is woven wire fencing behind there. The area beyond there is our big pasture.

She explored. And she explored. And she found those open places, and she pushed right through and under the fencing and Dave came out and found her having a fine time in the pasture.

It was hot yesterday and sunny and humid.  Just the ideal time to be running around a pasture trying to drive an errant pig back into her pen.

By the time we’d finished playing Capture the Pig, we were both in a fine humor.

You can see her, barely, lying in the little hut.  She was exhausted after her wild adventure.  So were we.  And you can see where Dave nauglered up the little house.

So all was well and I went to the house to prepare some dinner.

And then we had the visit.

A man came by to pick up a farm implement that we were selling.  He’d called ahead and we knew he was coming, but Dave finally had to go meet him and bring him to the house. This is nice, actually, because even people with GPS systems have trouble finding our place, but it still meant that Dave had to go meet the guy.

He brought his wife and small daughter with him.

I came out to the barn because I thought maybe they’d need as many hands as possible to get this heavy piece of equipment onto his trailer.  I can’t lift much, but I can do a little.

We all introduced ourselves and it was all fine. I took the woman and her little girl around to look at the baby calves in their pens and the baby pig thankfully in her pen, and as the little girl petted them, the woman and I chatted.

She kept asking questions.  She’d known me about ten minutes and she was asking a whole lot of questions about where we’d lived, and what we did and stuff like that. Stuff that nobody would really be very interested in.

In the process, she mentioned that she had been widowed and that her first husband was a pastor.  She then said that the only thing her current husband and the pastor would have had in common was their “love for the Lord.”


It was what I’d been waiting for.

I grew up in this shit.  I know the signals.

The woman was doing something all evangelical/fundamentalist Christians feel compelled to do.

She was figuring out what box to place me in.  Where did we fit? She couldn’t continue without knowing which script to use.

This is what she was dealing with.  Supposedly, the person speaking there is Jesus.  And when Jesus gives you an order, what the hell are you supposed to do except follow it to the letter?

But see, they don’t have to “preach the gospel” to people who already believe it, so they have developed a method of figuring it all out.

They create boxes.

The main two boxes are “Saved” and “Lost.”

The Saved box has a lot of little boxes inside it labeled “Backslidden” and “Iffy” and “Methodist” and “Episcopalian, But Claims Salvation” and the like.  The Lost box is also subdivided into “Liberal Christian”  and “Catholic” and “Mormon” and “Jehovah’s Witness” and (gasp!) “Atheist.”

Each box requires a different script because each type of person supposedly needs a different message.  With a liberal Christian, they can talk about the things they believe in common (Jesus was a nice guy, faith is a good thing, where do you go to church) and go from there.  With a Mormon, it’s a little more complicated, but rest assured, there’s a script.

There is also a script for atheists but I almost never meet anyone who can remember what it is. They rarely use it because most of them have never met anyone who says right out, “I’m an atheist.”

At any rate, they put out feelers.  If the other person is in the Saved box already, that person will recognize and respond to the feelers.  For instance, when she said that her two husbands had little in common except their “love for the Lord,” my response should have been something like “Well, that’s what is important.”

Bingo.  I would have gone in the “Might Be Saved” box.

I didn’t.

So that left in my situation fraught with concern.  No box means she doesn’t know what script to use. This creates massive discomfort in these people.

The men managed to get the implement loaded without female help (amazing, I know, but true) and money exchanged hands, and then he started in.

“I don’t know where you go to church, or if you’re saved. . .”

Oh, gee whiz.

Dave responded, “We don’t do church.”

Plop.  We moved into the “Definitely Lost” box.

Definitely Lost is a PITA box to be in.  It means that they are compelled by Jesus to preach the gospel to us.  They can’t leave until they do.  I know it.  I get it.

I also tend be pretty frank.

So when I saw their obvious discomfort (people, even these idiot Christians, really don’t enjoy “soul-winning” – no sane person does), I just cut to the core of the matter.

“I am an atheist,” I said.

And plop.  We found ourselves squarely in the Atheist box and then they were in real trouble. Where do they start with an atheist?

“What happens when you die?” he asked.

In the other scripts, nearly all of them, the question is “Where will you spend eternity?”  That is the lead-in question and is followed up by something about how we’ve all “sinned.”

That doesn’t work in the atheist script because we aren’t going to spend eternity anywhere and we have never sinned.  (Sin is defined as “coming short of the glory of God.”  No God, no sin.)

He was trying to find solid ground and struggling a bit.

And then he thought he got there. He began to tell us about a road trip they took to a scenic area and how God made everything.  I demurred. He responded with “Who made the world?”

This drives me nuts.

He doesn’t know any more about how the world got here than I do.  Stephen Hawking probably knows as much as anyone, but this guy wasn’t a theoretical physicist, so I decided to stop it right there.  I was hot and tired. I was sure that Dave was hotter and tireder and we weren’t in the mood.

I replied, “Look, I was a Christian fundamentalist until I was in my mid-forties.  Our son attended a Christian school all his life except for the period when we homeschooled him and his senior year which was in public school.  I can quote lots of Bible. Wanna hear it?”

And then I started with John 1:1 (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God), smiled and kept going.

They got the point, I think.

But then he did something I despise.  Just despise.

He explained how we have freedom of religion and how anyone can believe anything they like and how it’s all fine and dandy, but (always a but) he never severs ties with a non-believer because if he’s just nice to them, he might be able to say that one word that will help them.

Can anyone spell condescending?

I replied, “And there’s the problem.  You say you enter into a friendship, a relationship, with a person with the sole intention of changing them.”

He nodded. He knew what I meant.

Some denominations and sects take this further than others do.  One of my pastors used to actually say that no Christian should ever have a friendship with a non-believer for any reason other than to convert them.

In late October of 2004, Dave and I flew from our home in Alaska to North Carolina to visit relatives, including Nathan. We had voted absentee before leaving.

We had made arrangements, when we knew we were going to be there, to spend all day that Sunday before the election in Raleigh doing some canvassing work for MoveOn.

They gave us a list of the names and addresses of registered Democrats in a particular area and a map.  Our task was to go to each of those houses/apartments, talk with the person, and find out if they knew where to vote, if they’d made plans to get there, and if they needed transportation.

We were explicitly told that we were not to ask anyone how they planned to vote. We were to tell them that we’d gotten their name from the voter registration list and verify that they were registered as Democrats.  If they said, “No, there’s been a mistake. I am a Republican” or anything like that, we were to apologize, keep the conversation to senseless chatting and exit as rapidly as possible and go to the next name.

The whole point was to get out the Democratic vote.

We were not there to change anyone’s mind about anything. We just wanted to help Democrats vote, to remind them to vote.

There’s a correlation here.

What we did was honest.  We weren’t lying to anyone. We weren’t trying to intrude in any way.  We just verified if our information was correct, asked if they needed transportation and then moved on (!).

The people who announced that they were in the Republican box were not badgered about why they would be so stupid.  We were nice, polite, apologetic, and got the hell out of there. We didn’t try to establish some phony-baloney relationship with the sole goal of turning them into Democrats.

at dinner

This is me with Dave having dinner while on our cruise. We met a whole lot of really nice people, but one couple stood out. We spent a lot of time with them.  He is something or other with the Episcopal church and she is a retired priest.

The atheists palled all around Europe and across the Atlantic with the professional Episcopalians.

It is quite possible to have a lovely friendship with people who are very religious when you aren’t.  Really, it is.  We’ve remained in contact with that couple and would cruise again with them in a heartbeat.

But you see, neither couple cared what boxes the other folks were in. We discussed religion, of course.  It’s an integral part of their lives. Atheism is an integral part of ours.  We had some lively dinner discussions that went on far longer than they should have and that was part of the subject matter.

But there was no judgement made, on either side. We don’t care if they are religious. They don’t care if we’re not. We had fun together. We enjoyed each others’ company.

It’s not necessary to make a sale before you can establish a friendship.