These days, who can be sure of anything? From the moment Kellyanne Conway cited "alternative facts" to defend Press Secretary Sean Spicer's lie about Donald Trump's inauguration numbers, the truth was up for grabs.

We are left, no doubt, to doubt, second guess, and hope for the best. Let me give you an example.

My wife, Tia, teaches at St. Francis High School in Wheaton. Because of COVID, they conducted Mass outside, chairs socially distanced, on the football field. When time came, Tia led her class to their place on the ten-yard line.

While people found their seats, a student sitting nearby, apparently doubtful that a gridiron Mass might exclude the requisite rituals, asked, “Mrs. Holinger, are we going to get Communion and everything?”

Tia turned and assured her, “You’re going to get the whole nine yards.”

Even the most prestigious award in the world acknowledged the presence of absence. The Nobel Prize in physics this year went to three researchers "for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre [sic] of our galaxy" (nobelprize.org).

Absence proves presence. Go figure. Well, I guess Andrea, Reinhard and Roger did just that.

Sometimes the appearance of reality merely shadows the truth. Unable to retrieve two-thirds of my documents from OverDrive (when I click on them, a popup tells me, “You are not granted access. Get lost, Sucker!”), I talked to IT.

After two hours and many long silences punctuated with disturbing “Hmmmm”s, the computer expert declared, “This is unfortunate.”

This did not sound good. “How so?”

A pause, then, “The files you see there may not really be there. They may never have been there.”

I wasn’t sure when the conversation shifted into an ontological search for meaning in an indeterminate universe, but I was all in. “How about checking the iCloud?” Heck, I could sound metaphysical, too.

He told me for certain that maybe they were there. What more could I ask?

Sometimes we long for something gone. In that case, we resurrect it. Novelist William Faulkner famously wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." His character longs to believe that disappearance does not mean nonexistence; instead, the past lives through we who live presently.

Does it? An optimist might believe so.

We might do better focusing on trying to differentiate alternative facts from a grocery list. When ten-years-old, I shot imagined robbers and rustlers with my Fanner 50 on the dusty, saloon-bordered streets of my bedroom. However, if my mother walked in and made the narrative disappear, I knew the difference between her and Sally, my imagined love interest, tied to railroad tracks and expecting my arrival before Engine 409’s.

How can we tell truth from fiction today? How can we recognize the valid and authentic in the absence of measurable and verifiable scientific theory?

Question. (re)Search. Deflate the inflated. Don’t skimp when pursuing what’s right.

Go the whole nine yards.

And vote for candidates who value veracity over evasion, integrity over equivocation—or more forests will burn; more shorelines will flood; more lethal weather will kill and demolish; and more species will go extinct, like the critically endangered Amur leopard, Black rhino, Cross River gorilla, Sumatran elephant, and Yangtze finless porpoise. Oh, yeah, and Homo sapiens.

Contrary to Faulkner’s dictum, their past will always be past. In fact, it will be as though they may never have been there.

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