Sunday, October 31, 2010


Dear Spike:

Here in Utah, Halloween is like leap year. On most years, the annual festival of tricks, treats, ghosts and ghouls, takes place on Oct. 31. But every once in a while the doorbell starts ringing a day early.

I learned about this Gregorian peculiarity for the first time in 2004. We'd been in Utah for a little over a year then, and it's safe to say that we'd learned, by that time, that things work a bit differently here than they do in most other parts of the country.

To wit: Most Americans celebrate Independence Day on July 4, in commemoration of the day that the Second Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence. But in Utah, where a powerful plurality of people are faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Sunday is supposed to be a day reserved for church-goin' folk to go to church along with other church-goin' folk. So whenever Independence Day falls inconveniently on a Sunday, they just sort of slide it over to Saturday and — viola! — they can have their cake and eat it, too.

Same goes for Halloween, which in that same year we learned isn't always celebrated on Oct. 31.

At first I was rather annoyed at this whole charade — and not just because it feels like a blatant mockery of the time-honored Separation of Church and Me. The thing is, I have the utmost respect for people of faith — so long as they're practicing their faith honestly. But I've got little tolerance for hypocrisy. And that's what I've long felt this whole move-the-date debacle really is.

At the heart of the Fourth Commandment of the Hebrew Scriptures is the principle that, once a week, God-fearing folk should take a break from their labors and spend the day honoring their creator. I'm not a literalist, so I've always just taken this to mean that hard work should be rewarded with rest — and that we shouldn't forget that both work and rest are blessings. But those more inclined to believe that the Bible is God's list of rules for humanity — and among these, we count our Mormon friends — often take the Fourth Commandment to literally mean they should not do anything that detracts from the restful, peaceful, and worshipful spirit of the day.

I'm cool with that. But I'm also unconvinced at the sincerity of the way most people practice this tenet of their faith. They're still prone to flip on the Sunday football game, to surf the Web, to check e-mail, to mow the lawn, to throw a few insta-meals into the microwave. And as to the things they don't do, well, what kind of honor is it, really, to simply move all the things we might otherwise prefer to be doing on the Sabbath to another day?

Here's the thing: That's not a bad philosophical argument to have with my closest friends of faith, but since I don't ascribe to the belief in a Sacred Sunday, it's really not my business to go preaching to the masses.

And in any case, in this life, you've got to choose your battles.

Back in 2004, I protested silently at the indignity of it all by simply refusing to answer the door to trick-or-treaters. "If they can't be troubled to come over on Halloween," I said, "then they don't need my candy!"

But that was before you came 'round — and before I lightened up. The truth is that most people here, Mormons and Gentiles alike, have just accepted Saturday as "Halloween Observed" on years in which the holiday falls on a Sunday. It doesn't hurt anything. It's just how things are done.

So while we could have stood on principle and taken you trick-or-treating on the real Halloween, most folks would already be out of their sugary sweets.

Gee, come to think of it, perhaps that wouldn't have been such a bad thing. I digress.

The point is that we took you door-to-door on Saturday. And you liked it. And we all had a good time. And it didn't really matter whether you trick-or-treated on a Saturday or a Sunday or any other day, because in the end, it's all just for fun.

I hope you learn to stand on principle. I also hope that, when you do, you're standing on something worthy of being stood upon.


Monday, October 25, 2010


Dear Spike:

There it was, no bigger than a nickel. A thin, dark circle, barely raised against the surface of the rock. At first glance, it could have been a slice of obsidian — or even a raindrop upon the soft gray shale. And just like an ephemeral raindrop, it should have evaporated into the winds of time ...

... hundreds of millions of years ago.

Instead, this little bug left its tiny imprint on our Earth — disappearing into a sandy tomb long before the dinosaurs walked this land and reappearing, for the first time, as I drove a spike between two thin layers of shale.

"A trilobite!" you cried.

Indeed it was. But it was more than that. It was a tiny time machine. A window into prehistory. As old as the hills? No, that doesn't even scratch the surface. This was older. Much, much older.

I dropped my hammer, shook my head and ran my thumb over tiny, spiny fossil.

"Wow," I said.

That is all I could muster. Words simply failed me. And why should they not? Our ancestors began to communicate using language fewer than 100,000 years ago. This delicate little arthropod had been around for 500 million years. Maybe longer. And we had just unearthed it, waking it from its long slumber, robbing it from eternity.

We live just a few short hours from one of the most prolific trilobite quarries in the world. And as such, your mother and I had been meaning to do this for years. One thing or another kept getting in the way.

I'm so glad we finally did this. And I'm glad we got to do it with you. Because with all the awe I felt as we unearthed fossil after fossil after fossil, came an awe-inspiring reminder:

Our time here is short. Too short to leave undone what we dream of doing. Too short not to seek joy. Too short not to seek love. Too short not to care, deeply and passionately, for all of those around us. Too short not to be left speechless by a sunset, a snowflake, a little slice of shale.

Like the raindrops that danced on the soft gray rock as we reluctantly turned away from the quarry, we are both eternal and ephemeral.

And like the raindrops, we should dance.