I respect atheists and believers equally because everyone gets one vote apiece, and this election never ends. Ultimately, your vote counts only for yourself. Although I went to church as a kid, I got my god lessons above timberline and on the soccer field.

To me, “god” is a typo. It’s actually “good.” It’s not a guy or gal or individual being of any kind. It’s a commonwealth of goodness like a bank. If you do good stuff for others, good stuff will likely come your way. It’s not a perfectly fair system, but that’s what I’ve seen over the years.

I’ve had two distinct experiences with divine intervention (1977 and 1983). These experiences echo a permanent lesson in nonviolence that I’ll abide by for the rest of my life ā€” cross my heart and all that.

My first brush with Good was on a backpack trip up Pikes Peak with my friends Rick and Gino a few weeks before starting ninth grade. We left our heavy gear below timberline early Sunday morning and ambitiously cut switchbacks through the fog. All sound was misty and muffled, and my visual range was less than a dozen yards. I climbed faster than Rick and Gino, so when I cut above the long switchback from one side of the peak to the other, I entered the cliffs alone until I reached a vertical dead end and could climb no higher. The cliff above me tilted steeper and faded into a dirty, white cloud. Turning my head to the north, I saw nothing by impassable cliff. My ledge was about as wide as the space between grocery checkout counter aisles (not the self-serve, the other ones). Facing south, I saw more cliff, but a fin of crumbly rock jutted out about nine feet away. Beyond the thin fin, I saw a solid block of white. The rising sun added a faint glow, but I couldn’t see any details. I assumed it was more cliff.

So I started to down-climb to get a better angle, only to learn that I had severely overachieved on my ascent. It’s much easier to climb up than down. I hung onto another ledge and craned my neck to peer into the cloudy void. My canteen slipped over my head and bounced with sick-sounding echoes for a lot longer than my falling body would survive alive. Trembling, I climbed back up to my little ledge and put all my hopes on a nine-foot leap that must be executed perfectly or I die. If I fall short, I plummet head-first down a long cliff. If I lose my balance when I land, I might tumble into the distant void, presumably down another cliff. So I had to nail the landing and hope it provides an escape route. Returning to my current ledge was not an option.

The temperature was dropping, and the mist started to coat all the slippery granite. I would die of hypothermia if I didn’t make my jump soon. I was too far from the beaten path to expect to be rescued.

But first I needed to make an appeal to every god I ever heard of during my short 14 years on the planet. I started with the Catholic guy because that’s where I usually went on Sundays (not a ledge above 13,000 feet). But then I tried the Jewish and Islamic powers-that-be, offering the same set of promises. My face was covered with tears and mist, and I was sincerely asking for help. I didn’t get Santa Claus greedy. All I wanted was safe passage to the other ledge.

The leap itself was a common diving-board footing sequence. Left, right, left leaps… got it? Let’s run through this again. Step left, step right, load left, and explode right knee and foot before landing to stabilize. Left, right, left, land, stabilize…

I nailed the landing and ecstatically thanked the team of deities. The slope below the tiny fin was passable, and when I hit the trail I ran all the way to the summit to join Gino and Rick.

Six years later, one of the gods came calling. Apparently, I broke one of my promises. It was a preseason soccer game against Indiana University, and they were far superior ā€” faster, stronger, more skillful. We lost the ball near midfield, and for the first and last time in my life, I told myself to take him out. I dove in, he plowed through my thigh, and I spun to fall head-first like falling short on my cliff jump. I had been served notice. The guy continued dribbling, and I had a massive hematoma that forced me to spend the next two weeks checking into the training room before 6:00 a.m. every day.

This thing hit me like lightning. I broke a divine code. Never, ever try to hurt another player. Why stop there? Never hurt anyone. You can still be a tough, strong champion. But you don’t need to hurt anyone.