A Story for my Nephew – Amanda Patchin


Dust swirls. Breezes sigh. The metallic tang of blood is heavy in the air. The doorposts of the slave quarters are smeared, sticky, dark. Elsewhere no meaty iron scent corrupts the night air, just ordinary cooking fires, burning lamps, the muddy river. Night sounds join scents: soft voices, barking dogs, croaking frogs.


It is a wealthy land, fertile, educated, artistic. Great architecture in every street, great art on every wall, great politics in the courts


The stench of death is heavy over this land. Not just tonight’s sacrifices, although they too count in the toll. No, this land bears slaughter many times the weight of these bleating sheep, throats cut, blood drained, meat roasted. This land groans under death multiplied beyond nature’s limits.


A slave driven with whips, kept to short rations, worked long hours. A hard task made foolishly harder as the drivers withhold the necessary tools. This cruelty multiplied five hundred thousand times to every slave on every work gang on every day.


A slave woman brought to bed in her due time, the pains taking her mid-day, each one leaving her breathless, shaken by the expected agony. Exhausting hours pass and with a truly final effort she pushes her child forth with the shreds of will and muscle left to her. A girl? A boy! The midwife slices the cord quickly and flees the woman’s cries. To the river. Always to the river.


Such a guilty land should be wiped from the earth. Fire and brimstone. Judgement from heaven.


Instead, Azrael is waiting with his flaming sword.


The sweat of Sobek flows north through the land, the source of all her wealth. But lately the river has been untrue. Bloodied by the deaths of thousands of baby boys it was bloodied in fact some days since. Un-bloodied it vomited forth millions of croaking frogs crushed underfoot.


The jackal-headed god cannot understand. He sees death dealt and knows he should drink deeply tonight but is restrained by one hand lightly upraised.


Azrael knows his task and sets about his work. Mercy in every death. Mercy heavier than the weightiest justice. The first born fall before his sword. One only in each family for each generation. One only.




Fellow readers, I am often asked for book recommendations. It can be difficult to make specific recommendations to another reader without long standing reading intimacy. Other than the great books everyone should read, I have a few I recommend often.

I first read The Elegance of the Hedgehog a few years ago. Its alternating stories of the rich inner lives of a 50-something concierge in an elegant Parisian apartment building and a 12-year-old resident of the same are delicate and inspiring. Renee’s story of her autodidactic education alongside young Paloma’s existential despair make for an elegant philosophical and emotional exploration.

Life Philosophies


Ahem. Please excuse the pretentious title.


Whether we realize it or not, we have a philosophy of life. We may never have articulated it to ourselves, but we live by it nonetheless. My favorite analysis of your personal philosophy involves this exercise summarized below:

  1. Take a few minutes and write down an ordered list of how you spent your time in the last week by greatest total hours (excepting sleep). Feel free to estimate, but be honest. If it really includes 20 hours of TV or of surfing the web (my weakness), then write it down truly. You should have 10-20 significant things you spend your time on including work and/or education, leisure activities, and chores.
  2. Take a few minutes to write down what you really believe to be important in life in a hierarchical list.
  3. Tear up the second list because it is nothing. The first list is truly your Philosophy of Life because it is what you are doing with your life.

We also tend to have a number of other philosophies floating about in our daily lives. I believe it is healthy to frequently examine the philosophies driving our behavior and consciously work to develop them into theologically sound ones.

I have a couple of minor philosophies that govern some aspects of my life. I recently shared one with the high school cross country team at The Ambrose School during a nutrition talk. Proper nutrition is an important aspect of athletic performance and living in our particular culture requires a lot of conscious thought and careful choices about food to avoid falling off a nutritional cliff.  Of course, we talked about having a good balance of macros, discussed not getting into a restrict/binge cycle, and put up some example menus but before this we had to determine our philosophy of eating. The runners were very clear on the twin purposes of eating (fuel and pleasure). We did need to determine the balance between those and we needed to decide our primary philosophy of eating. I asked them what made a food good or bad for you. They were quick to list what they identified as “bad” foods and then to point out what was bad about them. Their list:

  • Ice cream (sugar, fattening)
  • Cheesecake (sugar, fattening)
  • Twinkies (empty calories)
  • Kale (tastes nasty)
  • Soda (sugar)
  • Doughnuts (sugar, fattening)

Notwithstanding these reasons, neither sugar content, total calories, or flavor can make a food “bad”. The only bad food is that which you are not properly grateful to God for. All food is good food insofar as you will be grateful for it. God clearly intended food for fuel as it does fuel our bodies. He also clearly intended it for pleasure; why else would we presented with such a dizzying array of flavors and textures? I feel strong after a meal of rich proteins, succulent fats, and crunchy vegetables. I feel great joy after a meal of complex, interesting, and balanced flavors. Grilled chicken and salads have fueled many a run and many a climb and Fettucini Carbonara with Chianti, garlic bread, and a dessert of Pots de creme has fueled many a long evening of conversation and revelry.

The goals of fuel and pleasure should be equally balanced in our eating habits and we should never sell one out for the other.

Every bite of food should be accompanied by gratitude to the One who created not only this meal and this palate but the very concepts of flavor and hunger and satisfaction.