Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email: tomthemick@gmail.com

Monday, July 18, 2016

American Families

“Ruth is on top, finally,” said my brother-in-law. We were at Arlington National Cemetery to bury my wife’s mother, Ruth Kosiavelon. The graves are all in straight lines there like soldiers in formation — ever ready, as the cemetery tour guide described them. We had buried my father-in-law, Theodore Kosiavelon there four years ago and Ruth’s coffin was to be situated above his because there isn’t room to put spouses beside dead soldiers. Her inscription would be etched into the back of his stone.
Ruth was Ted’s second wife, loved and respected as mother to children and step-children. Nearly all made the trip down along with friends who had attended her wake and funeral mass back in May. It takes time to arrange a burial at Arlington and they do thirty every day. Ted earned the right to be buried there during World War II when he was wounded in Manila Bay by a Japanese torpedo plane attack. Ruth wouldn’t be anywhere but with Ted and so we all gathered again for her ceremony. It’s the end of an era because Ruth the last remaining member of the greatest generation on my wife’s side.
Leaving from the Portland Jetport last Wednesday night, we bumped into conservative commentator Tucker Carlson. He has a place in Andover, Maine where he told us President Obama got only one vote in the last election. It was a different story in Washington, DC where Obama remains popular. The Obama effect is evident all over town. In the guided tour of the Arlington National Cemetery, blacks laid to rest there were mentioned most prominently, from Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, some Tuskegee Airman, Frank E. Petersen Jr. who was the first black Marine general, Matthew Henson who was with Admiral Peary when he discovered the North Pole, and so on. Museums we toured showed similar influence where attention is constantly called to the first black this and the first black that.
Ruth last Christmas

World-wide, there was a lot going on last week but I couldn’t study events as closely as I usually do with doing the tourist things as well as commiserating with family. The five Dallas police officers killed last week were being laid to rest, then three more were killed in Louisiana. A Muslim terrorist killed 85 with a truck in France. Information about torture at the November Paris nightclub attack emerged after the French government withheld it for months. Indiana Governor Mike Pence, to whom I’d been introduced by a mutual friend during an earlier trip, was selected as Donald Trump’s running mate.
It stresses me when I can’t find time to keep up with world events and last week I was falling further behind with so much going on. Ruth had always tried to keep up too and I’ll miss getting her perspective. After the burial we all gathered in the revolving sky dome restaurant on the 14th floor of the Doubletree Hotel in Crystal City. The Pentagon is nearby with Arlington National Cemetery beyond, and we could see across the Potomac to the Washington Monument. Ruth had bought everyone a round of drinks at the sky dome when be buried Ted and we all toasted her memory.
Also at the hotel was a reunion of another extended family calling itself the Demery, Farley, Syas, Taylor Family. Four hundred of them wore red tee-shirts and I’d get snippets of information from members during elevator conversations. In an extended discussion with one member I learned they’re all descended from two brothers who were “free people of color” in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and fought in the Battle of New Orleans. For this, they were granted special permission to live as free blacks in Louisiana, which would not otherwise have allowed it. Their descendants have kept in touch for two centuries and still meet every two years.
Four ladies of Stiles family at Olive's lonely grave

And speaking of family reunions, last week I guided members of the Stiles Family to the lonely, 1848 grave of ancestor Olive Stiles for the third time after I wrote about finding it in 2007. It’s on the slope of Stiles Mountain in the White Mountain National Forest. Ten of them were making a side trip from their larger reunion in New York City.
As she lay on her death bed Ruth told her loved ones she knew she was going to her Lord. That awareness gave her strength to die with peace and dignity, which in turn helped ease the loss for everyone. Also, the DSFT family reunion activities included “Family Worship” on Sunday, the day we left. Awareness of where we come from strengthens us all. Our founding fathers understood that and referred to our Creator at our country’s birth — a good thing to keep in mind at a time when our country and the families which make it up are feeling the strain of troubled times.

Labels: , , , , ,

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Today's Trends


My mother keeps track of her thirty grandchildren and her forty-six great-grandchildren. She knows all their names too — pretty remarkable for a woman in her nineties. She’s getting forgetful, but not about family. She had eight children of her own and I’m the fourth. Ours was a large family, but not unique. My best friend across the street was one of seven and so was my wife. We had only four children, which was considered a lot for my generation. Fewer Americans want to have any these days though. I’m seeing more people of childbearing age raising dogs and cats instead of babies and I’ve written about it several times including here and here. Why don’t Americans want to have children anymore? What is happening to us?
Ma on her 90th birthday with a few of her descendants

Our population is still growing but mostly because of immigration. The percent of Americans born somewhere else is approaching record levels. In Portland, Maine, one of six people was born in another country and most of those who are women are having children at much higher rates than native-born Americans. They, at least, have some hope for the future, which is one meaningful aspect of bearing children. Another is willingness to give of oneself.
Americans tend not to marry much anymore either from what I can see. For two months, I’ve been advertising an apartment above our garage, and while several couples have inquired, none have been married. Typically, a woman calls me to say she is interested. I ask if she’s alone and she says no, it would be for her and her boyfriend. That’s the norm these days. When I say I need first and last months’ rent, a security deposit, and a credit check, that all presents too high a bar for most to get over.
Pondering this, I saw a story on CBS News that two out of three Americans could not cover a $500 unexpected expense such as a car repair. I was shocked and realized that statistic bodes ill for our nation. There have always been people who live close to the edge and spend every dollar that comes their way as quickly as they can, but 66% of us live like that now? Even when we were a young family living below the federal poverty line, we kept that much on hand. That was back in the 1970s when $500 could buy about what $2500 buys now. It was hard to save up but we did so by eating a lot of soup and watching where every penny went. My wife and I agree those times were among the happiest of our lives. Most people we knew lived similarly, but  that way of life is not the norm anymore. What is happening to us?
Used to be that when people went broke, they would go to local churches to ask for money to pay the electric bill, the rent, buy heating oil, food, or whatever was the most pressing basic need. Doing so, they had to be accountable to the priest, minister, or rabbi about their spending habits, work habits, and/or lifestyle that might have gotten them into their predicament. If they went to someone in their family for a loan, the same accountability would usually apply. They’d have to explain how they got in the hole they were in and what they were doing to climb out of it.
Today it’s different. Today people go to government. In the 1960s when President Johnson declared his “War on Poverty,” the federal government began supporting people. There are forms to fill out but few inquiries about lifestyle. Either you qualify for government aid or you don’t. That aid increased steadily to the point where it now spans womb to tomb. It used to be that most had an incentive to save up for emergencies, but if they should save a given amount today it would disqualify them. In 2014, America reached the point where more than half of us received some form of government benefit. How far can “entitlements” expand? We’ll be $20 trillion in debt when President Obama leaves office -- double what it was when he was first inaugurated, and most has gone to pay for unsustainable social programs. That’s a whole year's GDP. Still we hear candidates promise to make college free and forgive another trillion in student debt with no explanation for how they’ll pay for it.
Americans are living beyond their means and so is the government upon which they depend. It’s not enough anymore to ask what is happening to us. We must ask what will happen if we continue on this path.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, July 05, 2016

Options For Peace

Fort Gorges with Portland Head Light on right

Remnant defensive fortifications are evident all over the approaches to Portland Harbor in Maine. Those from the 19th century like Fort Gorges, Fort Preble, and Fort Scammell are mostly granite. Others from the 20th century are concrete. All were constructed after the British bombarded Portland in 1775. That they’ve never been used should not be seen as a waste of the money spent building them. They accomplished their purpose just by being there because, as Plato observed twenty-five centuries ago, the best way to preserve peace is prepare for war. Would Portland have been attacked again if the defenses were not there? Probably, though no one can say for sure.
Fort Scammell from Willard Beach

While my father and his brothers fought in WWII, I don’t know of any other McLaughlin ancestors in combat. I’m sure there were going way back in Ireland, but I don’t know specifics. Ever since finding out my surname, McLaughlin, translated from Gaelic, means “of the Vikings,” I’ve been consuming information about those notorious raiders. For a thousand years, they were known exclusively as savage warriors, plunderers and rapists until relatively recent historical revisionist efforts to soften their image — probably because so many prominent people in western Europe had, like me, discovered they had a few Viking ancestors. Their savage reputation doesn’t bother me though, especially after learning of notorious exploits by McLaughlins in modern times, like those of the McLaughlin Brothers Gang in Charlestown who were rivals to Whitey Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang.
Edward "Punchy" McLaughlin mug shot

The Vikings” series on the History Channel eschews such revisionism, showing Ragnar Lothbrok and company in their ferocious glory. It’s very popular, having recently been renewed for its fifth season. Bernard Cornwell’s eight-book series “The Saxon Tales” is also quite popular and covers much of the same Viking history The History Channel does. The BBC has recently dramatized “The Last Kingdom” which is book one by Cornwell, who bases much of it on one of the few written accounts of that period: “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,” which was begun by King Alfred in the 9th century. I’m grateful to Cornwell for fashioning historical novels out of them, thereby making it more enjoyable to learn about that time and I’ll trust his judgement about how best to characterize the Vikings. Viking religion sanctioned their savagery, not unlike the way Islam encourages similar depredations by the likes of ISIS today.
By all accounts, the 9th century was a brutal time in the British Isles as Ireland suffered the same ravages as the Anglo-Saxons, and Britons, and the Scots. There were other invasions prior to those by Vikings, but I’ve not studied them. During our two-week tour of Greece a couple of years ago, I learned that my wife’s ancestors endured many battles with invaders too numerous to count. All my first-hand and second-hand studies of the histories of every time and place indicates that the world hasn’t changed in the last few millennia — and won’t likely improve in the foreseeable future.
It’s the same lesson boys in my neighborhood learned early: being ready to fight at all times will reduce the number of occasions when you’ll actually have to. My wife often points out that it’s the male of the species who stirs the misery of war throughout human history, and I cannot dispute that. It would certainly be better if we could find more peaceful ways to settle disputes, and occasionally we can work things out by negotiation. The recent vote by British citizens for independence from the European Union will likely accomplish a non-violent exit, for example. When we notified the British on the Fourth of July, 1776 that we wanted independence, however, a war was necessary before we could successfully negotiate the Treaty of Paris and actually get it. When the American south wanted independence in 1861, an even more brutal war ensued.
Fort Preble with Fort Gorges behind, Spring Point Light right from Willard Beach in South Portland

After Pearl Harbor was attacked, we demanded unconditional surrender of both the Japanese and their German allies before we would agree to stop killing them. Only then did we obtain a lasting peace. Is it possible to negotiate with enemies like al Qaida and ISIS who are killing Americans today? Clearly not. The only way to bring that to an end is to thoroughly destroy them and all other radical Muslims, the sooner the better. That’s what Thomas Jefferson did two centuries ago. He sent the Marines to Tripoli to kill Muslim pirates rather than pay tribute the way his predecessor, John Adams did. There’s no other way. I wish there were, but there simply isn’t.
Destroying Muslim Pirates

As I tell my wife, men today may wish they never have to tap their innate capacity for combat, but that’s not possible when other men threaten their families, their freedom, and their way of life. And on it goes.

Labels: , , , ,

Options For Peace

Fort Gorges with Portland Head Light on right

Remnant defensive fortifications are evident all over the approaches to Portland Harbor in Maine. Those from the 19th century like Fort Gorges, Fort Preble, and Fort Scammell are mostly granite. Others from the 20th century are concrete. All were constructed after the British bombarded Portland in 1775. That they’ve never been used should not be seen as a waste of the money spent building them. They accomplished their purpose just by being there because, as Plato observed twenty-five centuries ago, the best way to preserve peace is prepare for war. Would Portland have been attacked again if the defenses were not there? Probably, though no one can say for sure.
Fort Scammell from Willard Beach

While my father and his brothers fought in WWII, I don’t know of any other McLaughlin ancestors in combat. I’m sure there were going way back in Ireland, but I don’t know specifics. Ever since finding out my surname, McLaughlin, translated from Gaelic, means “of the Vikings,” I’ve been consuming information about those notorious raiders. For a thousand years, they were known exclusively as savage warriors, plunderers and rapists until relatively recent historical revisionist efforts to soften their image — probably because so many prominent people in western Europe had, like me, discovered they had a few Viking ancestors. Their savage reputation doesn’t bother me though, especially after learning of notorious exploits by McLaughlins in modern times, like those of the McLaughlin Brothers Gang in Charlestown who were rivals to Whitey Bulger’s Winter Hill Gang.
Edward "Punchy" McLaughlin mug shot

The Vikings” series on the History Channel eschews such revisionism, showing Ragnar Lothbrok and company in their ferocious glory. It’s very popular, having recently been renewed for its fifth season. Bernard Cornwell’s eight-book series “The Saxon Tales” is also quite popular and covers much of the same Viking history The History Channel does. The BBC has recently dramatized “The Last Kingdom” which is book one by Cornwell, who bases much of it on one of the few written accounts of that period: “The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle,” which was begun by King Alfred in the 9th century. I’m grateful to Cornwell for fashioning historical novels out of them, thereby making it more enjoyable to learn about that time and I’ll trust his judgement about how best to characterize the Vikings. Viking religion sanctioned their savagery, not unlike the way Islam encourages similar depredations by the likes of ISIS today.
By all accounts, the 9th century was a brutal time in the British Isles as Ireland suffered the same ravages as the Anglo-Saxons, and Britons, and the Scots. There were other invasions prior to those by Vikings, but I’ve not studied them. During our two-week tour of Greece a couple of years ago, I learned that my wife’s ancestors endured many battles with invaders too numerous to count. All my first-hand and second-hand studies of the histories of every time and place indicates that the world hasn’t changed in the last few millennia — and won’t likely improve in the foreseeable future.
It’s the same lesson boys in my neighborhood learned early: being ready to fight at all times will reduce the number of occasions when you’ll actually have to. My wife often points out that it’s the male of the species who stirs the misery of war throughout human history, and I cannot dispute that. It would certainly be better if we could find more peaceful ways to settle disputes, and occasionally we can work things out by negotiation. The recent vote by British citizens for independence from the European Union will likely accomplish a non-violent exit, for example. When we notified the British on the Fourth of July, 1776 that we wanted independence, however, a war was necessary before we could successfully negotiate the Treaty of Paris and actually get it. When the American south wanted independence in 1861, an even more brutal war ensued.
Fort Preble with Fort Gorges behind, Spring Point Light right
from Willard Beach in South Portland

After Pearl Harbor was attacked, we demanded unconditional surrender of both the Japanese and their German allies before we would agree to stop killing them. Only then did we obtain a lasting peace. Is it possible to negotiate with enemies like al Qaida and ISIS who are killing Americans today? Clearly not. The only way to bring that to an end is to thoroughly destroy them and all other radical Muslims, the sooner the better. That’s what Thomas Jefferson did two centuries ago. He sent the Marines to Tripoli to kill Muslim pirates rather than pay tribute the way his predecessor, John Adams did. There’s no other way. I wish there were, but there simply isn’t.
Destroying Muslim Pirates

As I tell my wife, men today may wish they never have to tap their innate capacity for combat, but that’s not possible when other men threaten their families, their freedom, and their way of life. And on it goes.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pushback Against Big Government


Elite big government supporters are shocked by the Brexit vote, and they’re not sure what it means. Conservatives believe the smaller the government, the better, so I’m pleased. Elites in Europe fear more countries will pull out of the European Union, while elites over here are finally sensing similar unrest in America.
Moving from big-government Massachusetts to rural Maine in 1977, I quickly learned that local control was prized. There was, for example, a movement to withdraw my new town of Lovell from the Maine School Administrative District #72 which it had joined only a few years before. Lovell had run its own schools for a century and a half and bristled under the new bureaucracy. There had been a choice of three high schools: Fryeburg Academy, Gould Academy, or Bridgton Academy, but no more. I was Director of Special Education, a district-wide job requiring me to travel around to six elementary and junior high schools to supervise staff. The position was created because of a federal mandate and it was all about meetings, paperwork, phone calls, paperwork, and more meetings.
The new district borrowed to build the New Suncook School in Lovell. It wasn’t paid off yet so that was an issue in Lovell’s pulling out. It was overcrowded already and just down the street was the old, unused Annie Heald School, a wooden building owned by the town. The superintendent asked me to attend a Lovell Budget Committee meeting to inquire about the district leasing it. I was new in town, so I introduced myself and made the pitch. The Yankee Republicans who dominated the committee in those days looked at me silently for nearly a full minute after I was done. “Any questions?” I asked. One older guy with sharp eyes and arms folded across his chest said, “Yeah, I have a question.”
Annie Heald School on right

“Okay,” I said.

“Ten years ago, when the superintendent wanted Lovell to join this new district, he said the Annie Heald School was a firetrap and they had to build a new school. Now, after the old school has been sitting there for ten years with nothing done to it, they say they want to use it again?”
“Good question,” I said. I had no idea about any of that and felt that I’d been set up. Locals believed they’d been manipulated by the “bigger is better” argument bureaucrats use, and maybe they had. A few years later, the old school burned to the ground after everyone got out safely. The effort to pull out failed though, because people like me with young families were moving up from Massachusetts and other states. We thought ourselves better educated and believed bigger was better too. I do not believe that anymore.
Shortly after, I was elected a selectman and served with two Yankee Republicans who thought Lovell people knew what was best for Lovell, that their judgement was better than the state’s or the federal government’s and they could govern themselves more effectively if they were left alone. After nine years I became convinced they were right, and that was one of the realizations pushing my political perspective from the big-government left to the small-government right where it has been ever since.
I supervised two federal programs — Title I and Special Education. Since then, the feds have taken over the school lunch program and now curriculum as well. More tax revenue goes to Augusta and Washington and what little comes back has strings attached — most recently, regulations concerning transgenders in locker rooms and bathrooms.
Back then, I was one of only three administrators and two secretaries in a district with 1200 students K-8. Now there are Now there are 1160 students but double the administrators, way more secretaries, way more teachers, much bigger buildings, much more paperwork, many more meetings, and a much bigger budget. Is there more learning going on for all that? After thirty-four years teaching in the district, I have to say no, and I could make a strong case that there’s actually less.
Shut it down
The federal government has also taken over health care — doing about the same with that as they have with schools. Working with the United Nations, the feds are planting refugees all over the country — a hundred here, five hundred there — often without informing local cities and towns they’re coming. Students in Manchester, NH schools speak 82 different languages, a severe strain. The mayor there has asked the feds to stop but they won’t. Washington knows what’s best for Manchester. When Lewiston, Maine’s mayor said his city couldn’t accept any more Somali refugees, big government liberals called him a racist. There are similar problems in Portland, where one out of seven people are foreign born.
Nigel Farage to EU president

Similar problems have been plaguing the UK and other EU countries for decades, and they were a major factor in the Brexit vote. Big government elites running the EU say the UK should take still more refugees. Ordinary Brits want local control and last week they shocked the elites by voting to leave the EU. More countries will follow. As liberal elites push for more central government power, ordinary citizens are pushing back.

Labels: , , ,

Pushback Against Big Goverment


Elite big government supporters are shocked by the Brexit vote, and they’re not sure what it means. Conservatives believe the smaller the government, the better, so I’m pleased. Elites in Europe fear more countries will pull out of the European Union, while elites over here are finally sensing similar unrest in America.
Moving from big-government Massachusetts to rural Maine in 1977, I quickly learned that local control was prized. There was, for example, a movement to withdraw my new town of Lovell from the Maine School Administrative District #72 which it had joined only a few years before. Lovell had run its own schools for a century and a half and bristled under the new bureaucracy. There had been a choice of three high schools: Fryeburg Academy, Gould Academy, or Bridgton Academy, but no more. I was Director of Special Education, a district-wide job requiring me to travel around to six elementary and junior high schools to supervise staff. The position was created because of a federal mandate and it was all about meetings, paperwork, phone calls, paperwork, and more meetings.
The new district borrowed to build the New Suncook School in Lovell. It wasn’t paid off yet so that was an issue in Lovell’s pulling out. It was overcrowded already and just down the street was the old, unused Annie Heald School, a wooden building owned by the town. The superintendent asked me to attend a Lovell Budget Committee meeting to inquire about the district leasing it. I was new in town, so I introduced myself and made the pitch. The Yankee Republicans who dominated the committee in those days looked at me silently for nearly a full minute after I was done. “Any questions?” I asked. One older guy with sharp eyes and arms folded across his chest said, “Yeah, I have a question.”
Annie Heald School on right

“Okay,” I said.

“Ten years ago, when the superintendent wanted Lovell to join this new district, he said the Annie Heald School was a firetrap and they had to build a new school. Now, after the old school has been sitting there for ten years with nothing done to it, they say they want to use it again?”
“Good question,” I said. I had no idea about any of that and felt that I’d been set up. Locals believed they’d been manipulated by the “bigger is better” argument bureaucrats use, and maybe they had. The effort to pull out failed though, because people like me with young families were moving up from Massachusetts and other states. We thought ourselves better educated and believed bigger was better too. I do not believe that anymore.
Shortly after, I was elected a selectman and served with two Yankee Republicans who thought Lovell people knew what was best for Lovell, that their judgement was better than the state’s or the federal government’s and they could govern themselves more effectively if they were left alone. After nine years I became convinced they were right, and that was one of the realizations pushing my political perspective from the big-government left to the small-government right where it has been ever since.
I supervised two federal programs — Title I and Special Education. Since then, the feds have taken over the school lunch program and now curriculum as well. More tax revenue goes to Augusta and Washington and what little comes back has strings attached — most recently, regulations concerning transgenders in locker rooms and bathrooms.
Back then, I was one of only three administrators and two secretaries in a district with 1200 students K-8. Now there are Now there are 1160 students but double the administrators, way more secretaries, way more teachers, much bigger buildings, much more paperwork, many more meetings, and a much bigger budget. Is there more learning going on for all that? After thirty-four years teaching in the district, I have to say no, and I could make a strong case that there’s actually less.
Shut it down
The federal government has also taken over health care — doing about the same with that as they have with schools. Working with the United Nations, the feds are planting refugees all over the country — a hundred here, five hundred there — often without informing local cities and towns they’re coming. Students in Manchester, NH schools speak 82 different languages, a severe strain. The mayor there has asked the feds to stop but they won’t. Washington knows what’s best for Manchester. When Lewiston, Maine’s mayor said his city couldn’t accept any more Somali refugees, big government liberals called him a racist. There are similar problems in Portland, where one out of seven people are foreign born.
Nigel Farage to EU president

Similar problems have been plaguing the UK and other EU countries for decades, and they were a major factor in the Brexit vote. Big government elites running the EU say the UK should take still more refugees. Ordinary Brits want local control and last week they shocked the elites by voting to leave the EU. More countries will follow. As liberal elites push for more central government power, ordinary citizens are pushing back.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Thinking Too Much


“What do you know for sure?” Ernie Colvin asked me the same question his Tennessee drawl every time I visited. 

“Not much,” was my usual answer.
The implied humility in my answer was a pretense because I thought I knew a lot as most young men do. Now though, as I reflect on our friendship nearly a half-century later, I believe I would answer the same way, but with seriousness. I have learned much since I knew Ernie, but that knowledge has only helped me realize how ignorant I am. As I used to tell my students: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” Most looked at me with puzzlement when I said that, but others got it. The truly educated understand that the best we can come up with after a lifetime of learning and reflecting is a very tentative framework of understanding about the world around us. I like to call it a working hypothesis that should be subject to modification at regular intervals.
Ernie was a veteran of two wars: the Spanish Civil War and World War II, during which he had been a prisoner of war in Germany. He would be sitting at his desk carving wood and looking up with a wry grin when I came by. He was a security guard on the night shift and I was a field supervisor for the company. It was 1970 and I was nineteen, though I pretended to be 21 so I could get a pistol permit which was required for the job. Ernie was in his sixties and he was patient enough to offer thoughtful answers to my many questions. He taught me a great deal during our frequent, late-night conversations.
One of the faults that has dogged me for a lifetime is overuse of my brain and underuse of my heart. Since I became conscious of it, I’ve been trying to bring myself into balance but it’s slow going. Observing my youngest grandchildren helps in this endeavor because they’re full of wonder as they explore the world around them. They seem to feel it more than think about it and I remember being that way too until I got out of balance. My brain was always the favored utensil in my personal toolbox and I used it almost exclusively until realizing there were other tools in there as well.
Somewhere around eight or nine, I remember laying in bed after lights out and pondering the universe — the big one, that is, especially its outer limits. Trying to image our expanding universe fifteen billion years after the Big Bang, I’d imagine space — the nothingness between material things flying out from the central point of the original explosion. How far would things travel into nothingness? Was there a limit to the great nothing into which those things were hurtling in every direction? I knew intuitively there wasn’t. I knew that it was limitless, infinite. I knew also that, though the universe didn’t have limits, my human brain did. It couldn’t fully comprehend infinity. All I could know was that the eternal existed. That realization was extremely frustrating until I accepted it.
Accepting it became the initial basis for my belief in the Creator, but it wasn’t an “Aha!” moment. The process was gradual. Call it intelligent design or ultimate creativeness, but I began realizing that something conceived of the universe and caused it to be — with me in it. Accepting that the Eternal had a capital E helped me relax as well. Let me re-emphasize that the process has been gradual and ongoing. I’m still in it and somewhere along the way I came to believe.
Also along the way came a quote from that brilliant atheist-turned-Christian, Augustine of Hippo. Even though he wrote it fifteen centuries ago, it jumped right off the page at me: “If thou hast not understood, said I, believe. For understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore do not seek to understand in order to believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.”
So now there is something else I know for sure. I don’t feel any compulsion to make others know it. It’s enough that I do. I’m not an evangelist and neither was Ernie Colvin. He never preached; he just was. I sensed something in him that I wanted even though I didn’t know what it was.

Labels: , , , ,