My Dad came up for a visit.
My parents have been on campus before, but only for a few hours and only to visit me. This time I got permission for my Dad to stay two nights and really explore the school a bit. It was his idea. I can't say what this means to me--my Dad's always been a little suspicious of the school, so it really does mean a lot that he wanted to come check out the place himself.
It was also a sort of a Father's Day thing, since he's doing something with my brother and sister-in-law for actual Father's Day and I don't think I'll be able to make it.
He came on campus Monday evening--that was my suggestion, since I wanted him to be able to come to some campus activities and there really isn't much going on over the weekend, most of the time. Also I didn't want him here Wednesday or Thursday night because those nights are for Dead Poet's Society and Paleolithic Dinner and both are invitation only and I didn't want to choose between those events and Dad.
In any case, when I got finished my afternoon horticulture shift, there was Dad, waiting for me on the porch, reading a newspaper. He joined me for dinner, then I showed him some of the trails I've been working on, then he poked around in the library while I did homework. Tuesday he joined me for breakfast (he didn't get up with me at five for trail work) and then helped out with horticulture for the morning. He's a pretty good gardener, so he really was helpful. I'd thought about trying to get permission for him to join me for classes, even though visiting family usually don't, but Tuesday afternoon I have Martial Arts and he wasn't interested in that. I think he went for a walk.
That evening, he joined me for Philosopher's Stone Soup.
As you might remember, that's Allen's weekly dinner party. It's sort of like a potluck, except that instead of finished dishes you're supposed to bring ingredients. We cook together, and then, over dinner, Allen practices a rather maddening form of Socratic Method on anyone foolish enough to reply to his question "does anyone have anything they'd like to talk about?" Of course, he's completely charming about it, so we keep coming back again and again.
Dad and I got out to the picnic tables a little early. Only Allen and Kit and Allen's son, David were there yet, and Allen was sitting on one of the tables, strumming his guitar while talking about something. They'd started the grill and were waiting for the coals to develop. As we walked up, the two of them seemed to come to a decision and launched into Unchained Melody, Kit singing and Allen accompanying.
Now, Dad pretty clearly thinks Kit is incredibly hot, which she is, and watching her sing, especially that song, he was just beside himself. It was really quite funny. Kit must have known he was struggling not to oggle her, but she ignored him. When the song was over, Dad and I and David all clapped. Allen and Kit looked at each other and shrugged and clearly decided to go ahead and give a concert. Next, they did "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow." I've always thought of that as a woman's song--it was first recorded by a woman--but Allen sang it. Kit played her cello, but did not sing. I think they did it that way to muddle up my Dad (since the song is about sex and he clearly hoped to be flustered by her singing it). But Allen did a fantastic job.
He doesn't have the voice to do the song really well. His singing voice is ok, but not more than that, but the thing is he brought out all the vulnerability of the lyrics, like I could hear the song as if I'd never heard it before. Maybe it was hearing it in a man's voice that did it. I could identify better, or something.
I'd like to know that your love
is love I can be sure of.
So tell me now, and I won't ask again;
will you still love me tomorrow?
He is a therapist, after all.
Then Kit asked David if he could sing.
"I know Uncle John's Band," he volunteered. "And I can drum. I'm pretty good at drumming."
"Well, then," said Kit, and they all launched right in, the three of them, David singing to his father's guitar, Kit's cello, and his own drumming with his hands on the table-top, all three singing in harmony for the chorus. David's voice hasn't changed yet and he sings quite well.
By the time they were done there were a dozen of us in the audience and more on the way, so the concert stopped. David left because he said he was having dinner with his sisters and mom and then going home. I introduced my Dad all around (of course Allen and Kit had known he was coming) and we started taking out our ingredients. Dad brought a box of Quaker oatmeal. I brought a quart of cleaned dandelion petals (I cleaned them over lunch and yes, it took forever to do that many. It's the end of the season, so I wanted to go all-out). Allen had a bottle of red wine and Kit had a dozen eggs. Nora,of course, brought honey and also four scented taper candled she'd made. And so on.
A lot of people showed up, so we had a lot of ingredients. Jeff, the ally who teaches physics, saved his offering for last; an insulated bag filled with a couple of lumps of dry ice. Allen's eye's widened excitedly and he looked towards the wine. I could see a wine cooler taking shape.
Allen is almost always the one who comes up with a plan for all our disparate ingredients and he did it again that night. Under his direction, some of my dandelion petals, four of the eggs, the flour Oak brought, Nora's honey, and some ginger from Andy all went into these little cookie things that we fried on a griddle over the fire in walnut oil brought by Jim, another of Allen's students.
We hard-boiled the rest of the eggs and put them in a salad with the rest of my petals, the dandelion greens Veery brought (we'd harvested the dandelion parts together right before breakfast), Dillon's spinach, DZ's garlic, Veronica's onion grass, and Echo's goat cheese. Ollie'd brought apple cider vinegar, so that, with the oil, plus ginger and a spoonful of raspberry jam made a dressing.
And the dry ice. Rick had brought woodsorrel, a wild plant that looks a little like clover and tastes like rhubarb. He boiled the ginger in a little hot water, added the woodsorrel, strained the liquid into a big bowl, and added honey and raspberry jam. Then, Allen poured in his bottle of wine. The whole thing was steaming and didn't look like much fun in hot weather. That's when Jeff added his dry ice. Instant cold carbonated beverage!
To get all of this done we were all chopping and peeling and flipping griddle cookies and whatever else, while Kit kept stealing spoonfuls of honey and various hijinks ensued.
My Dad was especially impressed by the juggling. After the eggs were boiled, of course Allen couldn't resist juggling all eight of them at once. But they had to be peeled, so Jeff, who is also a juggler, snagged one of the eggs out of the air. Allen kept juggling as though nothing had changed. Then, whenever Jeff needed a new egg to peel he'd snag it out of the air as casually as if he were grabbing it out of a bowl and Allen would keep going. When Jeff finally took the third-to-the-last egg, Allen switched to juggling the last two eggs one-handed for a moment, then threw first one, then the other, very high and walked away. Jeff caught both eggs as though nothing special were happening and the rest of us did not overtly react at all. The next minute, Allen was teaching Veery how to mix oil and vinegar for the dressing.
"Does he ever stop moving?" my Dad asked me. He isn't much of a cook, except for grilling, so aside from flipping cookies Dad mostly just watched. "This is amazing," he said, a moment later, to no one in particular. "Thank you. You don't normally let outsiders join you, do you?"
"Rules are for people," Andy explained, simple. "People aren't for rules." Dad looked surprised and impressed by the Biblical allusion.
But when we finally sat down to dinner and Allen asked his question "does anyone have anything you want to talk about?" my Dad spoke up.
"Yes, I do," he said, a little tensely. "Honestly now, are you trying to convert my son?"
I think I turned beat red. Some of the others looked uncomfortable. Allen grinned and looked at me for just a moment, as though asking me for permission to do what he was about to do. My Dad couldn't see me, since I was a little behind him, so I nodded.
"Me, personally, or some larger group collectively?" Allen asked.
"What do you mean by convert?"
"You know, trying to make him stop being Christian."
"I am not trying to make Daniel stop being Christian. No larger entity on campus has formulated that intention either, so far as I know. If you want to know whether any other individuals have, you will have to ask them. Why? Has something concerned you of late?"
"I mean no disrespect," my Dad said, a little uncertain. I half expected Kit to say something--I'm sure she found my Dad's ideas of respect and disrespect deeply ironic--but she held her tongue in order to give Allen room to work. He smiled and indicated he'd taken no offense. "It's just that lately he's been getting...ideas. His preoccupations, well, frankly they seem pretty pagan to me."
"Alright. Let's approach this reasonably," Allen suggested. "We want to know if Daniel is showing pagan tendencies. So what is pagan? What does pagan mean?"
"Alright. What does Christian mean?"
"Knowing and loving Jesus."
"Who is Jesus?"
"Oh, come on!" Dad raised his voice a little. "You have to know who Jesus is!"
"Well, since you have just implied that you think I am pagan, perhaps I don't? Why don't you tell me who Jesus us, so that we can both be clear?"
"Jesus is the Son of God," my Dad explained. "God sent His only son to be born as a human so he could die on the cross and pay for all our sins. Through Jesus, and only Jesus, can we get to Heaven."
"Alright. So, you think your son, Daniel, has preoccupations that indicate he might not know or love Jesus?"
"What does knowing and loving mean? How could you tell?"
"Someone who loves Jesus follows His teachings."
"To love God, to love your neighbor as yourself, and to do unto others as you would have done unto you."
"You're defining Jesus as part of the Godhead, right?"
"So, to love God one must follow a rule that says to love God?"
"Um..." My Dad is smart enough to know when he's been caught in circular logic.
"So, again, how do you love God?"
"You just do."
"That doesn't sound very definite."
"Do you actually know how to love God?"
"Yes! Of course!"
"Then tell me how."
"I already told you."
"No, you didn't. You provided an example of circular reasoning. If you can't tell me how you, individually, love God, I'm not sure I believe that you do."
"I'm searching, ok?" My Dad suddenly let most of his guard down. I'd expected him to get angry and instead he got vulnerable and honest. "I do the best I can. I go to church, I read my Bible, I talk to other people in the faith. I do the best I can and I just hope that's good enough. I don't think anyone can do more." Allen nodded.
"How is that different from what you've seen Daniel do?" He asked. I grinned.
"He's doing moon rituals and studying magic and reading all these books about goddesses and fairies and whatever else. There's nothing Christian in that."
"How do you know?"
"You define 'Christian' as knowing and loving Jesus, who is God. But you just admitted to me that you don't actually know what loving God consists of. So how can you say what it doesn't consist of?"
"I, I can't."
"Mr. Kretzman," Allen addressed my father, "I've heard it said that the beginning of wisdom is ignorance. If so, than congratulations." There was no sarcasm in his voice at all. He meant it.
We moved on to other topics, and other people joined in the conversation. We ate our dinner and drank our wine cooler, which was excellent, and the sun gradually went down. Tiki torches burning citronella oil kept the mosquitoes at bay, and we were surrounded by the season's first fireflies. Allen reduced several other people to ignorance, and some fought a lot harder than my father had. And we had reason to know and trust Allen already. Dad didn't.
But my Dad is, at bottom, a good guy. He gets uncomfortable with some of the things I do because he doesn't understand it and he's concerned for me, but he's not arrogant or narrow-minded about it. It takes a big person to let Allen do his thing, to really engage with him, and my Dad did it.
Why did he do it? I keep thinking about it. I do it because I trust Allen. I think well of him. But my Dad doesn't know Allen, so how could he know the man wasn't just messing with him? The answer poked up into my consciousness just as I was going to sleep the other night and it made me smile, alone there in the dark.
My Dad trusted Allen because he trusts me.
[Next Post: Monday, June 16th: Interlude]