I recall a moment many years ago where my brother (I know he's going to want to kick my ass now) crying his eyes out because my dad bluntly stated that he did not believe in god, and therefore did not worry about eternal damnation or eternity.
The thought sticks with me as I think about how children are indoctrinated into any societies cultures, mores etc. As children, god, satan, heaven and hell were as real to us as the Gary dump two blocks down from the house and the abandoned house that would catch fire every two weeks. To a child who hears about the fires and damnation of hell, the sight of the collapsed remains of a house next door engulfed in soaring flames is a jolting reminder of what may be one's fate in the future.
That night in particular, my brother and I were sleeping soundly in our rooms, completely unaware of the situation unfolding less than one hundred feet from our bunkbed. No smell of combusting material, no sting of searing heat, no sight of the dancing tongues of fire; instead it was our mother excitedly bursting into the room telling us to put on our clothes and shoes quickly. Niether of us were aware of any impending disaster until I looked out the window.
I watched with curiosity at the surrealistic sight of the fires reaching to the apex of the highest trees in the nieghborhood. It was as if I were detached from the whole scene, as if this were on television and if I felt that the flames were starting to threaten, I could always switch the channel to Channel 50 or Channel 66. In the moment, I wondered why the house caught on fire and wondered if my father and the nieghbors spraying down our yard with the garden hose was a futile effort. Being as young as I was, I didn't think of the word futile, but wondered how you could fight such a huge fire with a small hose that leaked at the connection to the house with a consistent drip, drip, drip.
As we stood on the opposite side of Colfax Street in our nieghbor's driveway, the following thoughts meandered through my mind, sometimes catching on in my consciousness: would our house catch on fire?; what would happen to us if the house burnt down?; what would we wear to school?; where would we go?; why would the abandoned house catch on fire?; would someone set the house on fire?
In retrospect, maybe if the house had caught fire, that would have caused my father to move to another nieghborhood; he may have not taken the promotion to LaCrosse, WI; we would have gone to a different school; I would have taken a completely different path and may have ended up somewhere completely different. I tend not to think about a hypothetical alternate relatity, as I'm sure that the anti-particle me probably has taken a divergent path from my own in its own anti-particle universe and its best that I don't meet the anti-particle me because I have no desire to disappear into a flash of light. No thanks. But I do realize a couple of things: 1) that these constant fires made it easy for my father to take the promotion to LaCrosse to "get the fuck out of this shitty nieghborhood" and 2) there was probably a wonderful human being who felt compelled to set the abandoned house next door on fire at a regular interval.
Oddly, I don't recall hearing about the abandonded house catching fire when we lived in LaCrosse. Not once. Apparently someone either felt a sense of excitement setting that house on fire to scare our family or worse, had calculated to terrify our family by setting that house on fire. When I think of that nieghborhood, I'm not surprised. While it was not the most dangerous location in Gary or the world, Black Oak was not exactly a location you would want to raise a family.
Well, a pointless ramble to eat up bandwidth. Hooray.