Daily GUIDE-ance:

Monday, January 14, 2013

Contact- by Carl Sagan

My parents gave me this book when I was 15 for Christmas. 431 pages of the weightiest Sci-fi I have ever seen. I suspect my mom’s hand in that choice of present. They encouraged Big Thoughts, they assumed I was smart, and went from there. Contact, By Carl Sagan. An unusual choice for a 15 year old?

I read it then, and I guess I liked it, although I didn’t have near enough life experience behind me yet to really appreciate this book.

I reread it when I was 20 or so- I had it with me in Nauvoo, rereading it, while I was rethinking the Big Questions of the universe. It helped a bit. It was with me, sitting on the side of the table at Subway, in fact, when Jerry Bench, the director of the City of Joseph pageant, took time out of his insanely busy schedule to take me out to lunch, offer his mentorship, and friendship, and to tell me that he had been watching me and could tell that I was not a jerk. To the 20 year old Mormon guy who was obviously not out missionary-ing and trying very hard to sort out the Big Questions of life under pretty much a ton of social and cultural guilt pressure, this kind, honest observation and gesture meant a lot.

It was the first movie I saw after my mission, some 3 years later, during which time Carl Sagan had passed. I saw it with Erik and Timpani, the family I wasn’t born into. Loved the movie.

The movie happened to be on TV during Liz and I's honeymoon, so we watched it.

Both covers have fallen off my copy long ago. The title and Carl Sagan’s name barely cling to the spine. Two pin holes in the upper left hand penetrate every single page of my copy. Carl Sagan’s face used to grin out at me from the back cover, back when my copy had covers. The pin holes are exactly where Carl’s nostrils used to be. My awesome sister Renae vandalized my book with a thumbtack at some point, as retaliation for me abusing some book or other of hers. Later, for no reason that I can think of, I decided to extend Carl Sagan’s nostril holes through the entire book. It took several iterations of sticking a pin as deep as possible starting on the page where the last set of holes ended, until the front cover had holes just like the back. Now, although Carl’s picture is no longer there, we still have his nostrils.

I’ve been rereading it again. I love it. Sagan’s dedication to intellectual integrity counterweighted by his sense of wonder and awe strike a resonant chord in me. His unwillingness to sacrifice the rigor of skeptical and honest thought or the love of the miraculous or the miracle of love… This book is like an old friend, like a toasty blanket, like a bowl of hot soup on a snowy day, like sitting over the heating vent, taking in big thoughts in small bites, a few days after Christmas, at age fifteen with a big life in front of you and parents who think you are smart enough to enjoy Sagan.