Reading Time: 3 minutes

[Get ready for a short flurry of posts. I’ll be off the net for five days next week, so I’m posting daily for the next five days to get some ideas off my sketchpad. Read at your leisure (or not). Sometime in early August I’ll launch the New Look.]

Having rhapsed waxsodic about my boy and my wife recently, I wanted to give my girls a big shout-out before moving on.

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This may border on the sappy from the outside — my meter is indeed twitching — but I was moved by a recent loving gesture from Erin (10) and Delaney (6). This may be in part because of the occasional emails I get, weeping over the fate of my children, whose religionless lives are assumed to be cold and unemotional. A recent message mourned my kids’ lost opportunity to “develop they’re [sic] souls.” Like “sacred,” the word “soul” has at least two common meanings: (1) an immortal essence, or (2) a rich, emotional inner life. Removing religion may remove the idea of immortality, but (as you in the choir no doubt know) it has no effect on the richness of a person’s emotional life, on his or her ability to feel, empathize, love, and discover meaning.

My girls recently demonstrated the depth of their lovely second-definition souls as Becca and I celebrated our 17th anniversary last Sunday, two days after the family went to Six Flags.

“Stay out of the family room, stay out of the family room!” shrieked Delaney excitedly, waving her hands to block us on the stairs. We dutifully detoured into the dining room and sat, waiting for further instructions.

Five minutes later, we got the nod. “Mr and Mrs. McGowan,” Erin said, “come right this way.”

In the middle of the family room sat two chairs, one in front of the other, each with two strings depending from the back and another across the seat. Next to the chairs, stuck on a broom handle, was this sign:

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We understood immediately.

During our day at Six Flags, Becca and I kept trying to ride a rollercoaster called the Great American Scream Machine. First I chickened out. When I finally decided I’d do it, the line was way too long. Finally we decided we’d go at the end of the day as our very last ride.

But as we headed that way, Becca and I realized that the girls (who had no interest in the Scream Machine) wouldn’t get another ride in if we did that. So we scotched our plans for a mutual G.A.S.M. and went instead to Splashwater Falls.

On the drive home, Erin looked out the window, pensively.

“What are you thinking about, B?” I asked.

“I feel bad that you guys didn’t get to go on the Scream Machine.”

“Yeah,” Laney added.

We waved it off, thanked them for thinking about us, assured them that the Falls was even more fun. But when we saw the sign, we knew they hadn’t bought it and had turned that karmic wheel to set things right.

They tied us is with the strings. “Okay everybody, here goes!!” they yelled, then shook our chairs and leaned them back (somehow) for the big uphill. “Clack clack clack clack clack!”

“Hold on, here’s the first hill, woohooooooooo!” They slammed our chairs forward to the floor. Erin reached over and switched on a table fan to blow in our faces. We threw our hands in the air and screamed. They shook the hell out of our chairs and screamed along with us.

At last it was over. They untied us and wished us a happy anniversary. Honestly, surrounded by golden souls like that, how could we not have one?

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.