The auditorium was full. I can't imagine filling it for anyone these days, much less a novelist. But Potok was a big name because lots of evangelicals loved The Chosen. That novel's success is likely why he was asked to come. That night, before his speech, we had dinner.
I don't remember the lecture, but one thing he said I remember well. In the middle of high-spirited conversation around the dinner table, for some reason we were talking about the book of Job, at which point he said he thought that the writer--whoever he was--had cheated by deliberately sweetening the ending of the book because he wanted so badly to get his work into the canon, into the Bible. At which point, we all chuckled.
Just exactly what creates the adhesive that makes certain things stick to the memory isn't easy to know, but that comment about Job stays with me. Even in jest, it offered, I suppose, a whole new way to talk and think about the holy scripture, a way that was and is far more peculiarly Jewish than Protestant Christian. What he said was shocking, even though it was a joke.
To imagine holy scripture being handwritten by some hack trying to figure out how to finish the story was an image I couldn't have made up because "the inspiration of scripture" allowed me only a picture some elegant saint resembling Jesus himself, quill in hand, his perfect head surrounded by the warm glow of heavenly light. To think of a biblical writer as if he were human would have been impossible for me then, had it not been for Chaim Potok.
I didn't convert. I still believe in the inspiration of the scriptures. But that memory comes back to me this morning on Potok's birthday as an example of the dangers of learning, because I don't think I've ever imagined what "inspiration" meant in quite the same context. And that's okay. It was a moment of growth, a spurt of growth. Life became, thereafter, more complex. I got older--and wiser--for that reason.
In that way, the night was a birthday, as today, February 17, is for him. And me.
We may have even had cake.