My parents divorced in late 1971. It wasn't a long time after that my mother remarried. (My dad did not remarry for over a decade, although he was a busy little romantic bee during the interim.) My new stepfather was known as "Slim." We all called him that, even my mother. He stood 5'10" but weighed only 130 pounds in his prime. A rural boy from Fort Payne, Alabama, he was a character. Prematurely gray, he gave off the impression of being world wise although limited in formal education. And he was a great story teller. The stories he told of his rural upbringing would hold my little brother and me spellbound. He was from another place and time, when life was studied in perhaps a less critical way than now, but still rigorously explored for meaning. The people he knew from his youth became parables for us sometimes. He wasn't my stepfather for long as he died in 1979, after a brief but brutal battle with cancer.
I will relate now one of those stories he used to tell. I didn't make much of it the time and, to be frank with you, still don't today. There's no real moral to it, I believe, unless you attempt to force one upon it - which he always did. I don't doubt it was really based on his recollection of a man he knew in his community, just as he assured us it was. I also don't doubt that he may have "spiced it up" a bit, in his inimitable way. But anyway...
There was a man in Slim's community who was the typical village atheist - an outspoken unbeliever in a community of devout Christian believers. He told us that one of this fellow's shticks was to go out in summer thunderstorms with a metal rod and cry out to the sky that if God really exists and is there, then "strike me dead with a bolt of lightning." That village atheist was noted for doing this and for surviving time and time again.
But then one summer day as a storm formed in the summer sky over Alabama, this man grabbed an umbrella and performed for some folks as the rain fell, the lightning streaked across the sky and thunder shook the ground. After the brief deluge was spent he sat down on a porch with some friends and acquaintances to rest. A mosquito landed on his forearm and after smacking it into oblivion, the man suddenly toppled over, dead - taken out not by a display of God's mighty power, but rather by one of His smallest and least significant critters.
As I said, this story didn't resonate with me either then or now, but I still think I would give a week's wages if I could return to our old front porch and listen to Slim tell it again. It was fun in a homey sort of way. And that poor fellow probably just died of a heart attack after getting himself all worked up. Hey, maybe there is a moral there: Let's not get ourselves too worked up arguing over God's existence or nonexistence.