From my freshman year in high school until the end of my junior year, I probably spent as much time on a skateboard as I did in a classroom. Azmodeus wound up living about fifteen minutes away from me and we frittered away a lot of time skating at a nearby junior high school. At first, we utilized the benches and walls and just skated around. The more we hit this spot, the more “hell ollie” began to call to us.
At the school, there was a basketball court that was raised about five feet from a walkway. In between the court and the walkway was about fifteen feet of dirt. Azmodeus was the first person I ever knew that believed it was actually possible to clear the fifteen foot horizontal gap with the five foot vertical drop. He then proceed to do it. He could make it look effortless.
The feat was not technically difficult. All you had to do was go really fast, ollie, and stick the landing. Simple. Once Azmodeus started doing it, others followed. The first few times I tried it, I didn’t really commit to it. I’d go through the motions like I wanted to clear it, but I was phoning it in. I’d kick my board out from under me as soon as I took off and made sure that I landed on my feet. I kept on looking at the worst case scenario – if I landed in the gap on my board I was going to take a nasty fall due to the speed. If I landed in the gap the best case scenario was a bad fall. The worst case was going to be a broken bone or a concussion.
My phoning it in and Azmodeus’s mastery of hell ollie continued for months. It got to the point where I wanted to avoid skating that spot. Eventually, we wound up at the school with a large group of guys. Azmodeus attempted to clear hell ollie and missed.
Before he had a chance to try it again, I made up my mind that this was going to be the day. There were only two obstacles that had to be overcome – physics and fear. I knew I could handle the physics. I had been skating for a few years and had the physical ability to clear the gap. I had to put trust in myself that I was going to be able to clear it and just do it. I stopped looking at the worst case scenario, cleared my mind, and did it.
After clearing it on the first try of the day, I had one of the best feelings of my young life. I had faced fear, put my faith in myself, and accomplished a feat that only the best skaters were even trying. There were guys who we skated with every day who never did it. I did it in front of multiple witnesses and no one could take it away from me.
Now Azmodeus and I were friends, but this is/was one competitive dude! He barely acknowledged my accomplishment and went to try it again. And failed again.
On it went for the next hour. I would go and clear it. Azmodeus would watch, try, and fail. The more he missed the gap, the angrier he got. After an hour had gone by, he stopped skating and started flinging his board at the ground shouting obscenities. The rest of the group was amused by it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that anyone enjoyed watching him fail, it’s just that Azmodeus was one of skating’s alpha dogs and every now and again it’s nice to see an alpha get his comeuppance.
If you’ve read this far, you may be asking why the hell this little anecdote is being written about in an atheist’s blog? The answer lies partly in response to MJD’s question of whether or not I still talk to Azmodeus. The answer is yes and I bring up this day at every opportunity! It took his worst day of skating and my best day for me to be better than him, but for one glorious afternoon it did happen. In a lifetime skateoff, I’m sure the record would be 666-1, but I did manage one victory and he’s such a competitor that it’s fun to remind him.
The other part of the answer that actually relates to the purpose of this blog is a matter of faith. Azmodeus and I had radically different family lives and experiences during the first fifteen years of our lives. We had both come to the same conclusion - that there is no God. Every time I failed to clear hell ollie, it was not a matter of not praying hard enough. It was a matter of believing in myself. When I did manage to clear it, God Almighty did not intervene on my behalf. The rules of physics were not altered. The difference was I trusted myself and I made it happen.
On the flip side, Azmodeus’s sudden inability to clear it was not divinely inspired either. He was having an off day. For just a moment, one afternoon, he lost faith in himself. It had nothing to do with not sacrificing the right animals or saying the right prayers. He just lost his focus. It happens to everyone.
Good and bad things are going to happen to everyone. Some of the things are random. Some of them we control. Through it all we are served well by believing in ourselves and the people with whom we chose to associate with. After twenty years of scoffing at God and trusting myself, my life is going just fine.