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I try to see the world through my father’s eyes, his sense that everything looked like science fiction.

After my mother died, my father spent his days wandering through discount department stores, fixated on tracking down the correct size, exact model, or shade of color for something he thought he needed, usually a household item for the little apartment he rented after selling the house. Non-slip adhesives for the bathtub shaped like starfish. Mechanical pencils. A childlike table for his car keys that required hours spent cursing over a tiny wrench. …


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Surveillance signs say Krishna is Watching. A life-sized plastic elephant sleeps in the parking lot.

Big Wheeling Creek Road runs through the hills of West Virginia and dips straight into the uncanny valley where a pair of thirty-foot gurus dance against the naked winter trees. Maybe it’s their bug-eyed grins, flowy arms, or brightly painted skin — something about these statues bothers the soul. They’re too lifelike. Too chipper. And they’ve deeply complicated my ideas about West Virginia.

There’s a massive gilded palace that looks like a postcard from a distant time and land. A life-sized plastic elephant sleeps in the parking lot. Gazebos surround a man-made pond where a sign warns about the possibility…


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Making darkness visible during the holidays.

My memories burn brighter in December. When the lights twinkle and the carols play, I remember my mother kicking at the sheets and saying “I have to go” before she died. Families with dazzling teeth exchange gifts on television while I think about holding my father’s hand, so cold and paper-light, as a doctor said all he could offer was prayer, which did not work. Most of all, I remember the words I did not say and the things I wish I’d done. Grief is fiercely isolating. Only we are aware of the voices missing from our lives. The sound…


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Snapshots from Greece and a meditation on the end of a world.

December 2016. Absolute stillness in Athens on Christmas morning. After a night of garbled dreams of headlines and pundits, I walked past shuttered storefronts covered with graffiti in search of my Christmas present: a pack of cigarettes after quitting for six months. The Greeks know how to smoke. In America we stand on cold sidewalks with shamed faces; here smokers luxuriate in a grey haze like it’s 1962. Rolling cigarettes is a family activity. Starbucks has a smoking section. I savored the familiar box in my palm, the sacrament of unwinding the cellophane and peeling back the gold foil, the…


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His ashes curled through the water in a pattern that conjured nebulae and galaxies, a reassuring image that I keep pinned to my mind.

When I rejoined Facebook last month, its algorithms immediately encouraged me to befriend my father. There he is with seven mutual friends, wearing his fishing hat, sunglasses, and rugged grin — a snapshot I took on the bayou one Sunday afternoon when we ate sandwiches and puttered around Lake Salvador while he pretended to fish. Last week I clicked his name and saw strangers wishing him a happy birthday even though he’s been dead for nine months. His digital life continues, a ghost in the machine. For a moment I considered becoming friends with him, perhaps the most tragic of…


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Each time I pick up a pen these days, I am reminded of Ingmar Bergman’s admonition that “the only worthwhile subject is man’s relationship with god.”

My father would have turned sixty-eight yesterday. I do not know how to celebrate him now that he is gone, although I know he would smack me if he saw me brooding. But I cannot help replaying his birthday last year when we sat in a Wisconsin steakhouse one month after his lung transplant. After ten months of waiting for the phone to ring and remaining within a thirty-minute radius of a hospital in an unfamiliar city, we had completed our mission: he had a new lung. I remember how proud he was to be in public without his hoses…


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After receiving a lung and transforming himself into a grand old man, my father slipped suddenly from this world.

WHEN I LOST MY MOTHER, I met grief for the first time and I ran. I thought grief would be dignified and monumental like a black tower shrouded in mist or quiet days spent weeping in a dim room. Instead I discovered that grief is a relentless feedback loop, a noisy wash of static riddled with fractured images, creepshow dreams, and broken questions that can never be answered. How could this. Why didn’t she. If only I. This wasn’t supposed.


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Read the writing on the walls. This is America muttering to itself in the kitchen before stumbling off to bed.

The shattered wall of a bathroom stall says Stop Making Excuses in baby blue paint. Beer bottles are scattered everywhere, their labels bleached by the desert sun. Skateboard fragments and condom wrappers, little amber vials and empty dime baggies. There’s a drawing of Bruce Lee’s head attached to the body of a zebra. The names and dates of young lovers are everywhere. Jay + Jessica, 2009. Alex + Jodi, 2010. Are they still together? A woman’s crudely drawn legs fills the bottom of the empty swimming pool, weeds spilling out of the grates. A hot pink scrawl says Fucking is…

James A. Reeves

Notes from the end of a world. Searching for faith in the digital age. atlasminor.com

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