One of the happiest periods of my life was spent living on red earth in rural Western Australia, in a town with only a few hundred people most of whom lived in outlying regions, five businesses, and the nearest supermarket two hours’ hard-drive at intercity speeds away. Today I was searching through old emails that I wrote during that period looking for something specific, and I found this one, below. I vividly remembered that day and that conversation. It was one of those better memories.
On a still, hot summer’s day when I had no work and had therefore decided to neglect tidiness in favour of the computer <grin>, I had two visitors. Both of them elderly men, both of them suited-and-tied, a most inappropriate mode of dress for the occasion and the weather, neither of them local faces that I’d seen around. One of them (who would later turn out to “lead”) was wearing an indecypherable name-tag.
Swung open the door because I thought I’d know who’d be calling, to be greeted with these two strangers. I smiled at them and asked if I knew them. They laughed and introduced themselves. Here they shall remain nameless, but they were visiting on behalf of my “local ” Kingdom Hall, nearly 200 kilometres away.
One of them, not the one who would “lead”, as looking uneasily at my collection of bones. I pointed out that most of them were banded wallabies, one or two red kangaroos, and the larger skull in the very corner was a sheep. It was, I said, my way of recognising their lives and their painful, unacknowledged deaths (I had been present when one of the smaller wallabies was shot six month ago). It was my way of honouring their transition from life to death, the silent and unwritten lives that became silent and unwritten deaths, and through them, all roadkill and all needlessly painful deaths of any creatures anywhere, including humans.
The Text for Today was obviously Adam’s Fall From Grace (in over an hour’s conversation, Eve didn’t get a single look-in – I waited and watched, but she might never have been a part of the same story). I obligingly followed their lead. How the conversation was shaped was all very constipated, and I felt so sorry for them. The leader of the conversation (and I was in a good mood, and happy to follow wherever he took me, although I reserve the right to think my own thoughts), kept referring to himself as a “sinner”. As soon as he referred to me as a sinner, I interrupted to tell him I wasn’t, I told him I was a pure, uncorrupted and incorruptible soul, as innocent as the day I was created, and that I lived by the Rede (I then had to explain what the Rede is, Christians arrogantly expect us to know the Ten Commandments but never do us the courtesy of learning the Rede, which is a lot simpler and more emcompassing, without any of the loopholes).
I went on to tell him that he’d be a lot happier and more peaceful in himself if he stopped branding himself as a sinner and thought of himself as a pure, untainted soul. I explained that murderers, rapists, even the most vicious of all people, are all pure, uncorrupted, incorruptible souls, all just trying to survive the best way they know how, limited only by their physical bodies, their level of functioning intelligence, and their personal histories. There are probably some people it’s better to avoid, I told him, but all of them are just struggling to deal with the hand that life has dealt them, and are not to be blamed for that. People who are not at peace are not somehow evil, just unfortunate.
Eventually he stopped referring to me and himself as sinners, and stopped trying to persuade me that the peace his god brings, can only be had if you feel profoundly guilty for even existing. That was a relief. Guilt equals peace. Ye ….. e ….. es …. that sounds just so sensible to me! Not!
We went back to the Garden of Eden (which I noticed in his conversation was still only populated by the Masculine Archetype), and I ran the risk of getting bored, as he wasn’t saying anything different. I chose for a moment to lead the conversation myself, and I asked him a couple of questions to change direction. How big was the universe? We established that it was very big in both our belief-systems. In that bigness, how big is the world? Very tiny, we agreed. So, my third question went, in all that bigness, with billions of planets around amd many of them no doubt also supporting life, what is the likelihood that God created such a complex thing just so that he could watch over the souls of a few specks in a tiny part of it? Is it not more likely that, I suggested, the creation of the universe was like the creation of snow-dome, a small, sparkly thing sitting on his equivalent of a coffee-table and getting glanced at every so often for its overall beauty rather than having a minute part of its innards minutely policed?
This led me to my old aquarium argument, which you who have sat with me over meals and coffee, have heard before. That big aquarium I had in the corner of my old house’s living room, I set it up all by myself. I provided water, oxygenation, filtration. I provided hiding-spaces between rocks, bones and a broken coffee-cup. I provided all the species of plants living, thriving and in one case repeatedly flowering there. I populated it with four or five species of fish. And I watched over them, supplying food sprinkled on the surface of the water (manna from heaven?) occasionally, and living food – mosquito wrigglers – slightly more occasionally. When the tank needed water-changes it was me that did it, equivalent, perhaps, to cataclysms that provide for renewal such as bushfires germinating seed.
Because of the nature of light in a water-filled prism and the angle of the tank to the window and its overhead light, I could see the fish at all times (unless they hid), but they could only see me if I came close to the tank, and I probably looked as if I was looming over them occasionally at times when environmental shocks (water-changes, filter-cleanings and the like) and when manna from heaven (fish flakes) happened.
In their small, fishy minds, associating my looming appearance with disaster and plenty, would they not think of me as god? And when the Silver Tetras started eating the fins of the neon tetras, would not the neon tetras look to their concept of me as the all-provider and say things in their small fishy thoughts equivalent to “why doesn’t she protect us” and “I don’t believe in her any more because she doesn’t stop bad things happening”?
I was delighted to see that they followed the argument. They didn’t like it, but certainly followed it.
I stopped to draw breath, and suddenly they took over and we were in the Garden of Eden again. And this time they led me unto the foot of the Tree, the Great Tree, the Tree of the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Sorry, it’s all this time spent with Adam, I think – I just had a Douglas Adams moment there). Adam ate the fruit, making a conscious choice to be disobedient (again, no question of Eve’s role, women are apparently so ineffective that they don’t even tempt any more).
So I talked about conscious choices. If Adam had been a good boy and hadn’t eaten that fruit, I argued, he would have no idea what constituted a good act and an evil act, so he would have been free to torture kittens, waste water and beat his children to death. It is precisely beacuse we have chosen to know the difference between good acts and evil acts, I argued, that we can rise above harming others, we can choose to live in peace, we can choose to work hard, be honest, leave a positive footprint behind, leave something decent for our children to emulate. We *need* to have eaten of that fruit, to live positive lives.
No, he argued, we are governed by God, and if we didn’t know ourselves what was right and wrong, he would guide us to do the right thing. This after telling me Adam was born pure. So I leapt on that and asked if Adam, the only pure man, was guided by God in the beginning because he hadn’t eaten that fruit, did that mean that in his purity, it was god who guided him to eat that fruit? I can’t remember the responses, I do remember that they were terribly uncomfortable. I also clearly remember that the guy didn’t even have enough of a concept of Eve in his own mind to try and blame her. Or the serpent. History rewritten.
It was fun. If they come around next week, I’ll have a large jug of iced cranberry juice and I’ll welcome them in.
I love rural Australia. I cannot imagine the same conversations being pursued for the same length of time on overpopulated, wet, coastal strips.