In the beginning there was the word…but was it a good word enunciated with sparkling optimism or was it a bad word clammy with gloom and doom and reeking with the already rotting stink of resentment? That’s not a trivial question or parlor trick to be debated in snobby salons or argued with passion by philosophers and academics. No beginning is ever ambiguous, things start off either on the right foot or the wrong, and whichever provides that fateful first step dictates the direction the beginning will follow through to the end. So was the word a good one or a bad one? “Awesome!” sets the scene for a story far different than does “Shit!”
People prefer the concept of the beginning over that of the end, and it’s been that way since the dawn of civilization. “A whole new day,” “a fresh start” and “the best is yet to come” sound more pleasing than “the final curtain” or “the end of the line,” and as the credits roll at the conclusion of a long-awaited blockbuster movie, audience members watch anxiously for the hint of a preface for the sequel that’s certain to follow. With the exception of devising increasingly dreadful ways to deal out death, mankind’s most enduring fascination has always been with the beguiling, unfathomable beginning of it all. Thanks to brilliant scientists, astronomers, geologists and astrophysicists we now know all about the Big Bang, black holes, rocky orbs and giant balls of gas whirling through space, shifting continental masses and the 4.5 billion year age of this planet we call home, but before there were telescopes and satellites, intricate instruments and carefully controlled chemical reactions, complicated equations and manipulated neutrons and protons, people had to explain things in more simple, albeit colorful, terms, and so the ancient Creation myths were born during the confused days of antiquity. With little more than the ability to survey their immediate surroundings and peer heavenward, the great thinkers and crack-pots of the distant past had little choice but to explicate the natural order of the world in the most flamboyantly ridiculous of fashion with mighty deities clashing and battling and causing the mountains to rise up, the seas to fill and the stars to be flung glittering across the night sky. Thousands of years ago (even without the luxury of readily accessible scientific findings, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel) I never believed those tall tales, and when I looked at a mountain I saw nothing more than a natural formation of rock and stone, but most people back then embraced the popular stories with conviction until science and technology began to set the record straight. Downgraded, reclassified and relegated to ancient history text books, the various myths of Creation are all but forgotten…except for one.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”
“Let there be this, let there be that…and that and that and that…” The Almighty sounded like he was doling out instructions to painters or landscapers not bringing forth the Universe. The Jews’ take on the weighty enterprise of Creation was by far the laziest and least imaginative of the lot. A flick of the wrist, a snap of the divine fingers and light and dark were instantly divided into two neat halves, earth and water formed a landscape then flora blossomed and bore fruit while fauna of all types engaged in behavior that shared little in common with the savage day-to-day grind of eat-or-be-eaten that drives nature in its true form. Back in the day, I was more highly visible than I am now, and my public presence was such that I provided the inspiration for a handful of archaic diabolical demons and malignant spirits. Some of the characterizations strayed a considerable distance from the source material while others cleaved closer, but all of my fictionalized forms were placed in appropriately flashy and exotic tableaux, so I was taken by surprise when I learned that the dour and self-obsessed Hebrews created a small but vital role based on me for their grim and oppressive Book of Genesis. There can be no denying that the serpent is the true star of the Old Testament’s Creation fantasy. Before the adroit snake made his cameo appearance, Adam and Eve capered naked in Eden and frolic and fucked with no shred of embarrassment…and no clue that Yahweh was just a dirty old man in the sky amusing himself by leering at their uninhibited cavorting. In the beginning there might have been the word, but afterward the serpent delivered a no-nonsense, much needed earful to Adam and Eve, and once they covered their money-makers with fig leaves and began to do the nasty in the discrete privacy of the bushes, God became very angry…as angry as you get when you come home after a tough day at work, log onto your favorite porn website and discover without warning that you’re suddenly being asked for a credit card number. The serpent flipped the switch and turned The Garden of Eden’s formerly free web-cam show into a pay-per-minute subscription service, and there’s been hell to pay ever since. All of the ancient musings on the world’s origin were silly, to be sure, but there was a primitive awareness in many of those tales of the need for cataclysmic events to shape the environment of existence and then populate it with an array of inhabitants, but that sense of majesty and wonderment is absent from Genesis. It’s simply a sordid, anxiety ridden psycho-sexual wallow in blame and guilt and shame that doesn’t appeal to man’s basic instinct for curiosity but rather to his basest instinct to head for the gutter. The Book of Genesis has proved to be as enduring as a persistent rash, and over the ages it has managed to dodge the bullet of reason countless times. To this day, even in a nation as advanced and sophisticated as the United States, people cling defiantly to the fable claiming it as fact. The scummy and seedy saga that kicks off the Old Testament isn’t so much an explanation of how the Universe came to be as it is a mirror held up to the sorry spectacle of human nature. That’s why so many people feel possessive of its value. It might not be history, but it is your story in many sad ways from the deceptions and betrayals to the revenge, retribution and bloodshed.
In the beginning there was the word, but creeping up behind that lexeme there is always the promise of another new dawn, and for that there is a calender. As a new year commences, everyone in the office orders a fresh desk calender, you buy a daily planner to keep in your bag and people hang wall calenders illustrated with images of cats, cars, cheesecake, beefcake, landscapes, rock stars or popular paintings. Clean, unsullied… months of pristine, blank white squares, a day by day promise of things to come, but immediately people scratch and scrawl all sorts of useless information that fills up as many empty days as possible with reminders of birthdays, vacation days, opening day, appointments, lunch dates and the anniversaries of milestones both happy and sad. I have no use for calenders. I was born in the summer and died in the spring, I don’t need to make a note of those events beneath the picture of a half-dressed fireman or a Thomas Kinkade painting, and I have enough presence of mind to remember that I’ve made plans to meet you without scribbling the details down with an exclamation point in a leather-bound datebook. People load up their calenders in a desperate attempt to crowd out life, to keep reality from making its own sloppy, indelible mark on those clean white boxes. Someone will die, someone will say, “I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” your transmission will fail and you can depend on an assortment of natural and unnatural disasters to bleed across the pages of your calender. The bullet-riddled days of Aurora, Newtown and Webster began the past year as impassive, inscrutable blank spaces waiting patiently to become dates of infamous note. Maybe that’s why Genesis continues to resonate. In the beginning people hope for the best, but after countless starts that led to a curdled finish they’ve come to expect the worst.
In the beginning there was the word, but when this whole mess comes to an end, someone will have the last laugh…and at the rate I’m going, it will probably be me. After careful consideration I’ve decided that I’ll keep things simple as the world takes its bow, and in those final lonely moments of extinction I’ll stare into the gathering void and say, “I told you so.”
Got a problem? Maybe I’ll help: Ask Alexios at firstname.lastname@example.org
©2013 M. Smith