Wednesday, March 14, 2007

a long time from now

A prologue to a novel

A long time from now, after the last war has been fought and the last piece of blackened earth has been buried in green, a great thing will happen to the little species of humanity on this planet. We will, finally, blossom into a shining, elegant people, we will become the gods we always looked up to, but our darkness will not rule us as it rules the gods.

One of the great problems of future mythologies is that they haven't happened yet. Our epics, fables, creation stories and fantasies all have the advantage of having taken place in the past. They have happened already, and so can be told, and anything can be true if it happened in the past, because no one can go and look and prove that it did not happen.

But this story is of how we are to come, a story of what might happen. But this story is different, because it draws upon great things that are asleep or only half-awake in the human soul.

The history of our species so far has been a chaos of war and peace, beauty and ugliness, violence and love, brilliance and savagery, ignorance and curiosity. In the broad strokes, earth produces life like a mad garden, species of plants and animals, viruses, bacteria and insects growing indiscriminately on top of the rotting compost of the dead. Through millions of years and millions of changes, mountains rising and falling, trees jutting up like calm mammoths into the sky, reptiles and their cold hearts hunting on the small and the defenseless, then flowers came, and birds chirping in the dawn, and then warm creatures, dolphins and whales and bears and elephants, and among these came little humans, ingenious and curious, fearful, caring, vain and restless.

Their delicate, so beautifully intricate irises of blue and hazel and emerald bore a great spark in them when they paused and watched the landscape, the motions of the world. Their eyes were the diadem of Mother Earth, for that spark was the great light of Life, and its brilliance is unmatched even by the most terrible sun. All life did mother earth bear from her heart, so that all life was not just, not just her children, but all life was mother earth herself, but a great age was to pass before these little humans took up their heritage and called themselves earth. Many times the mother herself doubted the outcome, and whether her own children would turn and destroy her one day. To her great relief and ours, humanity would come to love its mother again.

At first these little mammals seemed good and innocent. They loved to roam, and wandered the earth, always wondering what lay beyond the next horizon. Slowly and in good time they would learn things, how to keep fire, to make a sharp point, how to bear the furs of great animals to survive the cold. They delighted in the busy sky of night, in sounds and colours. But mother earth was not a gentle mother, and she was far from perfect. She was a wild being, indiscriminate in her creation. Her house was always stormy, and her house was not safe. She could throw up great fires, or breed vicious and cruel beasts. She could freeze the land, or lay it waste. Once she rained with all her might on every place her storms could reach. She could laugh at the most capricious designs of parasites, or withold her sapphire waters when they were needed most.

The little humans were raised in such a house, and their brilliance and their fear and their vanity and their love clashed with the world and grew into the tangled vines of our hearts. They came to accept casual creation and destruction, learned the killing throw of the spear, to watch with one cautious eye the clouds, that death and life were inextricably woven together so that one meant the other and the only prize was to see a new dawn rise in strength.

Humans were born to fear, and they were born to wonder. And wonder begets more wonder, just as fear begets more fear. They struggled to grow into the light of their eyes, but at the same time this light shone through, and humans began to act and move rather differently than their brother and sister animals. Humans began to do mysterious things. They would pause and wonder, and then move on. They would make intricate sounds, and trace pictures in the soil. They fashioned tools, and these became more and more elaborate as time went on.

Then came the first time that flowers and beautiful shells were put into the ground with the dead, and the first time the words of the grandmother was preserved in the granddaughter, and the first time the count of bison were kept in pictures on the cave wall.

And rapidly, after a millenia of slow and languid change, the arts of humanity gushed forth, affecting all they did and were. They learned to tame animals, and to mark themselves, and how to evoke experience from words, and most amazingly, they grew, all of them, to conceive of a power and a meaningfulness in something much greater than themselves, they could sense something beyond what they knew, this they called gods, and all people made gods.

And then in some places people began to tame the earth herself. They told the soil which plants to grow and which to not grow, and told the water which way to run, and how much. They commanded the dirt and the stones to arrange themselves to keep them from the cold and from the predators. They learned to co-operate in great numbers. And from these came little towns, and little vistas of farms. They bade the dog and the horse and the chicken, the goat and the pig, to come closer and take food from their hand. They told the horse to pull and the chicken to feast and the dog to watch in the distance.

And they learned that when they co-operated there was great bounty, and when they bickered or went away there was less or none. And many understood already how to punish and so to make the defeated co-operate, and this they accepted.

And they were so small and innocent and fragile looking. Watching them from above, in that great blue that they looked up at as master, They collected stones and raised them high and hoped the gods would notice. They peered into tangled forests and named the magic that ruled the world, that they saw just at the edge of their vision, passing from behind one distant tree to another. And most of them thought that this, their little land, was the whole world and everything there was, and did not notice all the dark spaces in their knowledge. And others did and looked at all the things that happened that they could see, and all the things they could not see thriving and moving and they called it great mystery. And a silence always follows that phrase that sounds like everything coming into being and all light.

And some chased the mysteries and looked under rocks and played with beetles, and some felt the terrible loneliness of being alive, the loneliness of being in eternity and mortal.

And they now, sometimes, and more food than they knew what to do with. And the strong men sometimes wore feathers and shells in their hair, and gave the extra food to warriors and mystics so that they would stay, and so grew armies and words and markets and temples and everything strange and human that we do and take so seriously.
and our fear and our wonder grew together and sometimes they were one and the same.

And there now, so long after the gentle mammals who wandered the earth, you can see the golden masks of Crete, the flat and grinning kings, the graceful, powerful and unloving eyes of the pharaohs, the Chinese poet sitting gangly on top of a hill and watching the armies of bamboo and iron marching. There are the halls of Alexandria, a temple dedicated to what humans had learned, and memory, and the beauty of how things are and what there is to know.

And there is Copan, the stone temple dedicated to vastness, surveying the wandering jungle all around. There are the blueskinned gods of India, carved into the rock but graceful and indomitable. They dancingly curl their arms, that could move suns with the slightest gesture. There are the Roman senators arguing, sitting on great benches of marble, suggesting the truth of lightning and reading with awe writers that were for them too ancient.

And among all these beautiful and mysterious things were the skin and bones of scarred slaves, the swords that cut into pregnant bellies in vengeance, the rats who emerged from the ditches in the night smuggling disease, and with it sorrow and horror. There are the merciless priests carefully polishing sacrificial knives, and later the scrawl of writing in the morning sun that gives birth to remote deaths.

And among the light and the innocence was the sight of parasites bursting from skin, the mysterious red blotches, the black sores, the blue lips, the green skin. There was the shivering, and greying hair and wrinkling skin, and babies born dead, sometimes one out of four.

And there were the ruthless laws of no appeal, and the droughts, and the thousand things that wear down and destroy a child as it grows. Betrayals, rejections, lies, fears, failures, humiliation.

And sometimes there was falling in love, two little mortals sharing an eternity that is now gone, gone; and hard work repaid in overflowing harvests of wheat or deer. Sometimes there were beautiful statues raised higher than any statue could have been raised, it seemed, and wanderers who whistled in the summer dusk and dogs who wagged their tails when the people came back. Stories were invented, and songs, and now and then gypsies and traders arrived with dazzling things. Sometimes the stories were true, and they were adorned so as to give the heroic deeds of the ordinary human their rightful gravity.

And then out of the small cities came men with funny hats who were very strong, called kings. Kings seemed to grow out of these complicated flowers of towns naturally, and all over the world. And with them came armies, many warriors who did nothing but make war. These strange people did not hunt or grow their own food, but sat and waited for the king to give it to them, and if the king did not have it he sent the warriors to get more. And they enjoyed going.

And too the gods grew, there came out of the mysterious giants clothed in magic, little men with wisdom that not longer said bend thy knee but bend thy heart and soul. Buddha and Jesus, Nanak, Mohammed, Confucius, Lao Tsu, Ghandi, Moses and others too.

There came iron, and cities that crept over the hills and across rivers, empires and empires of elaborate buildings, ships with white sails, here are the Romans with their tall crosses and induestructible eagles, their heroes of glory waving to thousands of them back from the wars. Here are the Persians covered in gold and purple, the elegant and brittle Chinese emperors at the edge of dawn, tracing the lines of all change in perfect words;

Out of all this we came, here and now, the thousand generations stretching back into the darkness of the long gone past. They all feared and wondered, though maybe very differently, I don't know, we weren't there. But from what is left, their drawings, their ruins, their stories, and from us, their children, I suspect that they too struggled with demons and angels, gods or no-gods, with sanity, with the mystery that is being born and one day dying, with the pushy unasked-for demands of the heart, the body or the world.

But true, true; for us we must know only by broken pieces and guesses, really for us is only a short road we look back on and see it fade into pitch darkness. So too is it with our little future before us, a rising sun that blinds when you look at it directly.

This is the prologue of our future, and in the telling I wanted you to know that this life, its presumable succession of lives, is a dance, one not necessarily leading to a perfect climax, a dance where we, none of us, can say for sure if or when it will end or begin and how. But a dance of constant changes, and beautiful variations, and scary ones, but always leaving one with the sense of a great thing moving that we may, after all, be too small to ever really understand, like the ants being arranged, when one plays with them as a child, but no less miraculous for just being ants.