(Host) Part of the problem with being a fiction writer is that when you experience something unbelievable but true, everyone thinks you’re lying. Commentator Philip Baruth knows this all too well.
(Baruth) In 1974, when I was twelve, I separated from the Lutheran church in what I like to think of as a schism of one. The Lutheran church I attended was run by two very strict grandmotherly women. The schism involved a disagreement between these two ladies of the church and myself over when I should be allowed to take my confirmation. Their argument was that I’d paid so little attention during my two-year training that I’d need to repeat the entire sequence; my argument was that four years was a lot to ask in exchange for a metal detector, which is what my mother had promised me at the other end of the tunnel. So I broke with the church, as the theologians say, but God and I remained on the best of terms and I never had any reason to feel that He held a grudge of any sort until about a month ago.
Now, I know that occasionally I mix fiction with truth in these commentaries, and I know that doing so makes it hard for anyone to believe me when I say that what I’m about to tell is completely and utterly factual. But that’s the case: this story is absolutely true.
Three weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, I’m driving on Battery Street in Burlington, coming toward the intersection with Pearl. I’ve got my three-year-old daughter Gwendolyn in the car seat. Suddenly church bells start going off somewhere in the city, and Gwendolyn asks me what the noise is. I tell her that those are church bells. Then she wants to know what church is. I say church is a place where some people go on Sunday morning. She’s satisfied with that, and we pull up to the intersection of Pearl and Battery and I stop the car at the red light.
Suddenly – and again, I’m speaking the truth here – a big four-door sedan comes roaring around the corner from Pearl. As the car negotiates the turn, the back door flies open briefly and a book comes hurtling out. The door closes and the sedan powers past me down Battery, disappearing around Battery Park. Now, I can tell from the trajectory of the book and from the noise it made sliding along the blacktop that the book is sitting just outside my driver’s side door. And let’s face it, I’m a book guy by trade, so there’s never a question but that I’m going to open the door and look.
And there’s the book, sitting precisely outside my door – I don’t even have to lean out to grab it. I negotiate the turn onto Pearl, and then I have a chance to flip the book over. It’s a Read With Me Story Bible for Children, suitable for ages 3-7. Gwendolyn is three.
“What’s that?” she asks.
“It’s a bible,” I tell her. “That’s what people read in church.”
She gets right to the point. “Is it for me?” she asks.
Now while it’s true that I need to have a bible physically ejected from a moving car and slid to within several millimeters of my hand, I don’t need to be hit over the head with it. “Yes,” I say, “yes. This is without a doubt for you.”
I pass it over the seat to her, and she opens it up to a picture that looks like Samson and Delilah. Gwendolyn gives it a long, long look, and it isn’t five minutes before the whole back seat begins to take on the thoughtful air of a chapel.
Philip Baruth is a novelist living in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.