The Varieties of Religious Experience

Nemo was a little boy who was pretty friendly, pretty smart, a good enough eight-year-old for most purposes. What he wasn’t, particularly, was rich. That meant he never had a lot of new stuff, so Christmas and his birthday were big occasions for him.

Now it was getting near Christmas, and what he wanted more than anything this year was a bike. And not just a bike, but the one he had seen in the catalogue: a choice of blue or red, twenty-inch wheels, five speeds, and a lot of extra stuff on it. He had communicated that wish to his mother, who had looked doubtful and shook her head a little even though she was smiling as she did it, so it was a tossup to him whether the bike would be a go this year.

He did see a package in his mother’s closet a few days later. It wasn’t exactly the right shape, but maybe it had to be assembled. So he lived in fear and hope.

Clarissa, his big sister, saw he was troubled and asked what was wrong. When he told her, she said, “Believe me, it’s what you want. I saw it all in a dream, and I’m absolutely sure. It’s a blue one, in fact, and it even has colored fringes hanging from the handlebars. It’s a beauty. Just don’t make Ma mad before Christmas, or she won’t give it to you.”

He said, “How can you be so sure? I’ve dreamed about things plenty of times that didn’t come true.”

His sister frowned at him. “I know it because I believe it, because it’s true,” she said. She gave him a little push on the side of the head. “And if you know what’s good for you, you’ll believe it too.”

Later that day he told his big brother Mendel, who was even older than Clarissa, really a grownup himself, how strangely Clarissa had acted.

Mendel just laughed and patted Nemo on the back. “You know she’s a little nuts,” he said. “In fact, let’s look at it logically. There a billions of things that could be in a package that size. Maybe of all those only a million or so are things Ma could buy, or would buy for you. So it’s a million to one against it being the bike you want. Maybe it’s a different bike, but don’t get your hopes up too high.”

He didn’t say anything to his mother. She was touchy these days, so any conversation was likely to end in her yelling at him, or worse.

As Nemo went to bed that night he was really confused. He knew that Mendel was very, very smart. Everyone said so, and even Mendel himself often complained about how stupid everyone else was. “More fuzzy thinking, dammit,” was how he put it.

On the other hand, it was hard to explain away Clarissa’s intense certainty. People said she had special powers, and some of them, even grownups, seemed to be afraid of her. He was, too, a little bit.

Nemo kept thinking hard about the package and everything that had been said about it. At the end he decided that the only thing to do was wait it out. Christmas was surely coming, soon enough.

He would find out for himself.

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