Someone showed me a picture of the world once when I was a kid. It was this great big blue marble with streaks of white swirling around it like fingers caressing it from some unseen hand connected to someone who knew things and saw things and made things happen that nobody else saw or made happen but he knew and he saw them and he smiled and he laughed and just kept twisting and twisting and never stopped.
When I looked at the world, at that picture of the planet, I looked beyond it and over it and beside it and under it and all I saw was black. Black, black, black everywhere. Black like a nothing or an everything that was hidden behind a curtain because it was just too awful to look at. Maybe it was something our minds just couldn’t handle. Maybe it was something that would shake us all up and teach us something we weren’t supposed to know. Maybe it was proof that everything we had been taught, and were still being taught, was all a lie.
It wasn’t God twisting the world. It wasn’t the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful being that I was supposed to believe in, the one that made the light and made the land and put this naked guy here alone, all alone on this hunk of rock he created and then because the naked guy was lonely, because he couldn’t see anybody or hear anybody, and didn’t have anyone to talk to, if he even knew how to talk, and didn’t know where he came from or how he got there, the maker made a woman, just as naked, and put her there, right there where the naked guy would find her, and then they’d see each other naked and they’d be ashamed of their bodies and find something to cover themselves up so they wouldn’t be ashamed anymore.
If you believe that kind of stuff then you have to believe that there’s a lot of holes in the story. You have to believe that if the naked guy and the naked girl had babies and they were both boys and one of them killed the other and then the whole world got populated you had to wonder who the boy made those babies with and why isn’t that part of the story?
I never did believe in him, not really, because he never showed up for anything no matter how hard you begged and pleaded and called out to him and no matter what promises you made to be good and do good and never curse again or never call anyone a name that hurt their feelings, like their feelings mattered at all. He never was there when your knees were scraped or your nose started bleeding or your heart got broken when you learned that Santa Claus wasn’t real and it was your parents putting all that stuff out under the tree for you and then you started feeling guilty because you heard them talking about money all the time when they didn’t think you were listening and you knew they were really struggling to give you a bunch of stuff you’d probably break in a few days anyway. That wasn’t the guy who was twisting the planet in his fingers, no matter what they told you, it wasn’t ‘God’…at least not the God that they tell kids did all that.
It wasn’t the God that supposedly created the world in seven days and that’s why we measure a week that way and Sunday is the first day and Monday is the worst day and everybody just keeps trying to ‘make it through’ until Friday when they can leave their hum-drum jobs and get into their hum-drum cars and drive to their hum-drum houses and greet their hum-drum families and smile and feel like a great big hero because they made it through the week and brought home a few bucks and there was food on the table and a roof over their heads and don’t we have a nice yard and boy, I bet the neighbors wish they were us.
It was something else, someone else, who wrapped their talons around the world and kept it spinning and someday, somehow I’d find a great big rope and wrap it around the planet and stop it dead in its tracks and say to this guy, this person who spins the planet with his white, ghostly fingers, ‘Hold on a minute….I really enjoyed this day….I really feel like I did something big and important and nice and don’t you think I should be able to stop the world for a few minutes and take a look at it from out here, from out in the black, from out in the nothing and the everything, and say ‘You done good, my friend, you done good’ before you spin it again and somebody else does something and wants to stop the world for themselves and take a look at what they did?” Don’t you think we all deserve that now and again?
But it wasn’t always like that, and there were more days when I felt like I’d done nothing but bad, and some days I just wanted the world to stop turning for a little while so I didn’t have to feel hurt, and didn’t have to feel unimportant and scared and worthless. Some days I just wanted to feel nothing at all and maybe know what that was for a little bit and stop having people ask me what was wrong and why I was sad and what they could do to help because there was nothing they could do and I was sad about everything and I wished and hoped that I could wake up one morning and just be anywhere but where I was, anywhere in the world but where I was and where I felt scared and alone.
And when I saw the world and saw it there in the black nothing, the black everything; that’s when I really got afraid. Even though I was told to be afraid of ‘God’ and afraid of the Devil and afraid of Hell and afraid of everything that would happen to me when I was dead if I wasn’t a good boy and didn’t do what my parents said and what every other grown up told me to do even though I was pretty sure they didn’t do what they were told and what kind of example was that to set for a kid to keep telling them to do what they were told and then do whatever you liked and let them see you doing that? I saw the world there in the big black nothing, the big black everything and I wondered what the hell kept it there? What kept it floating there in the nothing, in the everything, and kept all of us from just falling off? That’s when I knew fear. It wasn’t telling me some red guy with a pitchfork and fire was going to own my soul when I was dead, or someday I’d be standing before some gate and have to answer for myself and my actions, it was thinking that whoever it was turning that big blue marble in the big black nothing was going to stop turning it and I was going to fall off into the big black nothing and just keep falling and falling and falling and falling and it would never stop, and never end, and I’d never be anywhere at all ever again.
That’s what made me afraid, more than any of the stories I was told or any of the rules I was supposed to follow. I was afraid that one day I’d just fall off the planet and keep falling through the nothing, through the everything, and no one would stop it or catch me or care. But I didn’t fall, I never fell, I just stayed right here on the planet and didn’t fall off.
And the grown ups kept telling me about God and about the Devil and how I was supposed to fear them both but love only one of them and I wondered how you could possibly love and fear someone at the same time, especially someone you never saw and never touched and why should I fear someone that couldn’t hurt me and couldn’t yell at me and couldn’t hit me with a yardstick until it broke when I was being to loud or got a stain on my pants or I didn’t clean up my room the way they liked because that was the only way and nothing else was good and nothing else was right and nothing else was anything unless it was what they wanted. I didn’t fear God and I didn’t fear the Devil, I feared the hand that was holding that stick and when it broke would get another stick to replace it and break that one too and keep breaking them because nothing was ever good enough and nothing was ever right no matter how many times you tried to do it their way and no matter how little you were and how you just didn’t know what they wanted, and didn’t realize that they didn’t know either, and the frustration of not knowing was what made them hit you with the stick. You learned that later, when you grew up and thought about it and understood that nothing would ever make them happy and stopped blaming yourself for everything just because they blamed you by telling you nothing was ever right. You didn’t know that when you were young. You didn’t get to know that. You just knew that you were wrong because they kept yelling at you and kept hitting you with the stick.
I saw the world as some great big round ball back then. For the first time I saw more than just my bed in my room where I slept in my house on my street where I rode my bike, and realized that the world wasn’t just those few things that I knew and could see and could understand and touch and felt real to me. I saw then even if the end of my street or the store around the corner or the woods off in the distance seemed like they were so far away and were such a big, endless space they were really just a tiny little speck of dirt on a great big spinning ball set into a great big black nothing, a big black everything, and that’s what made me afraid, and made me think that the whole world, and the nothing and the everything beyond, was so much bigger than me.