On the road to Lost | Chuck's World

Mar 01, 2017

I was going to tell you about the time my friend Gordon called me by accident, but then I started thinking about the banana peel. And if I’m completely honest, I was only thinking of the banana peel because of the exoplanets.

But let’s start with the banana peel. I was taking a walk around my neighborhood when I saw it, just sitting there on the sidewalk. Right in my path, a perfectly splayed-out banana peel with no banana in sight, stopping me in my tracks.

Again, this was a familiar street. A street where one doesn’t usually see used produce just lying around.

I had to consider, then, that I was an unwilling participant in a cosmic practical joke. For a moment or two, I even contemplating just stepping on it, as if free will were an illusion and my obligatory pratfall was the price I paid for ever thinking otherwise.

Instead, I approached it slowly and sort of nudged it to the side as if it were a banana bomb, then went on my way. But I was a changed man for a while, understanding that I might have thwarted powerful comic forces I do not understand. For a few days, I kept an eye out for piano movers, or a couple of guys carrying a large sheet of glass across a busy street.

It eventually amused me to think of the universe as a jokester, setting us up and watching us fall. It would explain a lot.

Which brings us to the exoplanets.

Last week, NASA announced that it had discovered seven earthlike exoplanets (i.e., planets that don’t orbit our sun) orbiting a star fairly close in interstellar terms. Forty light-years is still quite a distance if you’re not a photon, but in the big picture this is right in our neighborhood. Seven planets, three of them looking pretty positive so far in terms of being able to support life.

And it could turn out to be an astronomical chimera, just a gleam in the telescope. But after the year we’ve had here on this planet, those possible homes away from home feel ironic, almost a tease. I wouldn’t be surprised if they discovered a sign on one of them that says, “If you lived here, you’d be home by now.” It’s always nice to have a backup planet, of course, but it still felt mean.

Gordon is probably pretty excited about this news. He’s got a thing for the stars, although that’s not why he accidentally called me.

I met Gordon Atkinson 14 years ago, although it was a virtual relationship for another 18 months until I managed to see him in person. I discovered his blog only a couple of months after he started it, in late 2002, back when few people understood what a blog was. I was a little puzzled myself.

But he had a wonderful writing voice, lyrical and plain, eloquent and earthy, the complete package, and he wrote about his profession. At the time, Gordon was the pastor of a small, quirky church in San Antonio. He blogged anonymously about the life of a real live preacher, and his audience grew large and varied, believers and atheists and everything in between. He also drew the attention of a book publisher, and “RealLivePreacher.com” was published in 2004, followed in a few years by another collection of stories, “Turtles All the Way Down.”

And this week his latest book, “Foy: On the Road to Lost,” is published by Material Media, Inc. Drawn from years of experimenting with fiction writing, “Foy” is a novel of moments, essentially a collection of short stories but really vignettes from the life of a man who has lost everything, slowly and then all at once.

Foy was a minister like Gordon, but the similarities are otherwise spotty. From the first chapter, we learn that Foy has lost his wife, his family, and his job. He’s lost his place, in other words. The world he knew and understood no longer belongs to him, and his faith breaks into butterflies, lovely and colorful and impossible to catch.

So Foy hits the road to Lost, and “Foy” takes us along this journey, floating through chronologies with a spare, clean style that can’t mask the poetry that Gordon always brings along.

Gordon is no longer a minister either, although, again, he’s not Foy. He’s still happily married, recently the father of a bride, gainfully employed as a web designer and consultant. He’s not lost, or if he is, it seems a comfortable place to be.

Before he left the ministry, though, Gordon accidentally locked himself out of his church, and while fumbling with his phone he inadvertently called me. I had no keys to bring, but it struck me then as another perfect picture, less a practical joke than, maybe, a New Yorker cartoon. A minister locked out of his own church. Write your captions.

Now this picture gives me chills. He stands outside the place he knows so well, unable to get back in. It’s the only time when Foy and Gordon merge for me, just a little.

And it resonates, living in a time of uncertainly and change, fear and anticipation. It feels disorienting, these days, and now I think that maybe Gordon didn’t write a book about Foy as much as one for our times.

Many of us now find ourselves on the road to Lost, eyes open for banana peels. It’s just nice that someone wrote so elegantly about what that feels like, and it’s nice to call him my friend.

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