Monday, July 2, 2012

Excerpt from Ecce Homo

The novel Ecce Homo deals with the biblical first family as individuals with unique perspectives on the human condition and its peculiar relationship with the divine, both as they deal with their own seismic contributions to history and as they struggle out into a world where the rest of us have no idea what they've been through. So you get Adam, Eve, Abel, and yes, Cain:
When I was being born, I could feel everything, and could see.  My eyes kept opening, but it was all new, and I didn’t know what I was experiencing, so very little made sense.  I would see flashes, but nothing made sense.  I can imagine what my father was feeling, what he was thinking.  He didn’t know what to make of me, only that whatever was happening, must somehow be natural.  He didn’t know what I would be like, only what he knew about himself.  I wouldn’t say I blame him or my mother for any of what would happen, or even God, because living is a living hell, it’s a constant series of misadventures.  Everything that can go wrong will.  What we get to call living is a series of opportunities to figure out how to make things right.  We either do that or we die.  Well, we die anyway, and that’s another terrible tragedy.  For some reason, I was fixated on death from the very beginning.  I could never explain why.  It was always on my mind.  I wouldn’t call it morbid or macabre, so much as an innocent fascination.
     I could tell right away that my parents never considered it the same way I did, that for them, it was a little more remote concept, that for them, living and dying were two very different ideas.  They knew a lot about living, but very little about dying.  They had never been born, so naturally they had no idea what kind of experience that is, and so just as naturally, they couldn’t conceive of its opposite.  They were created into a world where all living beings were already there.  My mother, or so it was constantly told to me by my mother, seemed to have an instinct about how it all worked, but that was different from an understanding.  She never had to think about it.  She was part of the first and last generation of mankind that was designed to function perfectly.  She had the most direct divine spark possible, next to my father, who was the first man ever created, given all the most personal attentions of the one being responsible for everything.  In genetic breeding, it’s encouraged not to introduce too much familial intermingling, just as the clone of a clone is that much less stable, just as a master can never teach a student everything they personally have mastered.  There’s a constant degeneration, something lost with every new iteration.  Either something else comes along, a new source of inspiration, or a spontaneous knowledge, or progressively, everything gets worse.  It’s nature, the way it’s set up, nothing is ever lost, but everything is always changing, either in patterns or in new designs, and when it’s difficult to tell what’s going on, it produces a sensation of fear, because the unknown is always a source of fear.  Imagine a world where the patterns aren’t known, imagine a world where everything’s new.  My parents knew God, interacted with him personally.  They never talked about it, but then, they didn’t have to.  It was just something I knew, perhaps my portion of the divine spark, an unspeakable knowledge, an unbearable burden.  I was the first person born, rather than created.  Something lingered inside me.  I knew death.
     I saw the world with a fresh set of eyes; I was born with an appetite, and I was always hungry.  That was how I came to understand death, because knowledge is the ability to understand things, to know how they work.  The first thing knowledge breeds is the awareness of the existence of death, because anything that works eventually stops working, moves on in other permutations.  The reason most people believe the things they knew in their youth were better than the things they experience in their advancing age is because they are clinging to the hope that things don’t die, and therefore, they themselves won’t.  It’s foolish and not very intelligent, but that’s human nature.  It believes what it wants to, whatever is most comforting.  If it’s easier to believe in something you’ve already believed in, rather than tackling something new, then that’s what you’re going to, despite all reason.  If it’s easier to believe something new, because others have before you, then you will, not because you believe but because you’ve allowed yourself to believe in someone else’s belief.  You’ve latched onto something that already exists, something else old, established, something that seems permanent.  To accept something new, of your own accord, is to once again accept that new things are possible, and new things suggest a beginning, and in the beginning an end.  That’s how the mind works, because that’s how existence works.  Death is feared because it provides the opportunity to answer the ultimate riddle, in how it’s possible for nothing to exist at all.  In the existence of nothing, isn’t nothing itself something?
     I thought too much.  I knew that.  I was thinking before I could talk, obviously, but even when my parents encouraged speech, I still kept thinking.  I think some people substitute one for the other, perhaps without even realizing it.  It sounds dumb to suggest one or the other, but not both at the same time, but it seems to be the only explanation for how some people behave.  Anyone who can’t explain what they’re doing is probably missing one.  They react more than anything, attempt to reconstruct something they’ve seen but can’t understand.  Anyone who will just imitate or follow something they’ve seen or have been told, they have already made a decision, and that was the last thought they will ever have.
     My life was a series of decisions, and an endless line of thought.  I determined that the only way for me to truly live was to consider the possibilities, even before I was conscious of the fact of my unique nature, that I was the first person ever born.  I was aware of it, certainly, but I didn’t understand it, couldn’t quite appreciate it, at least not right away.  I was reacting, however, to the fact before I knew it, and that was the distinction, what all the thought was about.  My father might say, as he often whispered into my ear in my first years, that I reminded him of my mother, how reflective and solitary I was, even before I could do anything about it.  That’s how he could understand it, what a baby was like for him, the only way he could reconcile it with what he already knew.  I developed a concept of my mother before I even knew her, and that’s as much as I ever had.  I don’t mean to suggest that she was remote, only that she could only be who she was, and she was very much as my father suggested, someone like me, but who wasn’t me.  I had to understand the world in terms I knew, too, in what I might recognize, and that was in contrasts, in what was like me, and what wasn’t.  My father was always there.  My mother wasn’t.
     As I came to understand it later, she didn’t stay like that, the more children she had.  She was far more involved with Abel.  I didn’t resent that, as strange as it sounds, given what happened.  It was evidently something she needed.  I had already proved that she didn’t need to behave that way, but she chose to, and that’s all that really mattered.  Life is a series of choices, and there’s rarely a lack of second chances.  The more you live, the more you accept that.  You can’t relive and make different decisions than you’ve already made, but there will always be other opportunities.  There is only one permanent, and that’s death, and that was true from the very start, before birth.  The act of creation demanded it.  There’s an opposite to everything.
     I guess I began to view Abel as my opposite.  That’s probably what it was.  I recognized a lot of the things he did, because I’d done them, too, but I also realized that he wasn’t me, any more than I could be him.  I wasn’t that old when he was born, but I was able to make some concrete distinctions.  His existence made a lot of things easier to understand.  It might be easy to assume that all Abel did was frustrate me, but that wasn’t the case at all.  Abel made things easier.  His existence clarified many of the things I’d been thinking.  My brother was a confirmation.

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