Editor’s note: Tikkun is delighted to be publishing Michael Kagan’s book Where’s G?d as a series on our website. This is the seventh and final chapter. Click here to read the Prologue, Introduction, and “Night One.” Click here to read “Night Six.”
I was back home, back in my room, back with my angels, books and toys. Only the globe of the Earth was missing. Daddy told me that when they washed it, water had seeped into the electrical wiring and that it was too dangerous to use. Something about short-circuiting and fuses and the possibility of a fire and getting electrocuted. I didn’t understand but I could see that worried look on his face, so I didn’t argue. It left a hole in my room. It felt strange with the Earth missing. I always enjoyed tracing my finger over its surface.
I lay on my bed talking to my angels. “What happened to me?” I asked. “You saw everything. You are witnesses. Tell me what happened between me and the earth?” The mobile turned gently. The angels replied one by one: I see the pain of the earth. I hear the pain of the earth. I know of the pain of the earth. I am giving you a taste of the pain of the earth. I receive the pain of the earth. I love the earth. Please teach of the pain of the earth. I bless the earth. Please do right to the earth. And finally – I will protect the earth. And then as one, they chanted: Holy, Holy, Holy; the whole earth is filled with God’s glory. I began to cry. I sobbed uncontrollably.
And then I felt her arms around me, holding me tight, bringing me comfort, bringing me strength, bringing me hope. Mummy! I lay in her arms, weeping while she gently rocked me.
“It’s OK, sweetheart,” she whispered. “It’s OK. You’re home now. Everything’s alright.” I loosened myself from her embrace, wiped the tears away on the palms of my hand and looked her in the eyes.
“It’s not really, is it?” I asked sniffing. Mummy looked at me puzzled.
“Let me get you a tissue for your nose,” she said, leaving the room. She returned a moment later with a whole box of tissues. Daddy joined her, a little miffed at having his evening program disturbed.
“What is it, dear?”
“What happened to me?”
“You mean why you were sick like that?” I nodded, “Well, I told you, you had a stomach virus…”
I shook my head, “No.” I said, “Something else was wrong. I didn’t have a virus. We are a virus.” They looked at me puzzled. “We are like a virus,” I corrected myself. “To the earth. We are like a virus to the earth. And the earth’s response to viruses is just like our responses to viruses – being sick. I was sick all over the earth. It was like the earth was telling me that this is what might happen if we continue to act like a nasty virus. It will sick us out.”
“Vomit,” said Daddy.
“What?” asked Mummy.
“The correct word is vomit. Rhymes with Gromit.” He tried to chuckle, embarrassed by his embarrassment. I played that word around in my head. I tried it on my tongue: VO – MIT. Yes, that’s a good word to describe it.
“The world is not in good health, is it?” I asked after a while. They shook their heads. “I felt the world in pain. I felt the crying of my planet Earth.” I pointed to where my globe once stood. “I heard it crying, crying in pain like some of the people I saw in the hospital.” They looked at each other. “Its body was hurting like a sick body. Its blood, its lungs, its skin, its bones; it was all in pain. I could feel the animals that are dying, and the seas that are polluted, and the fish that are disappearing, and the air that is filthy, and the trees that are burning, and the mountains that are broken, and the fields that are tired, tired like an old woman.” I shivered. My eyes brimmed with tears.
“Do you think that global warming could be like a fever, you know, like the planet has a fever and its temperature is rising?” asked Daddy. “Because if it is, that’s another way that our bodies overcome attacks by dangerous elements like bacteria and viruses. They raise their temperatures in order to kill the enemy. Unfortunately, sometimes that strategy goes haywire and results in the body hurting itself.” I nodded my head. I think that he was right.
“But why are we doing such bad things to our own selves?” I asked. “Why are we destroying ourselves?”
“You mean: why are we destroying the earth?”
I shook my head and said in my best Alice voice, “No! I meant what I said and I said what I meant: Why are we destroying ourselves?”
“Well,” said Mummy, “if we continue to damage the planet, we will end up destroying ourselves. Is that what you meant?”
“No!” I insisted. “We are the earth. Just like everything else. We’re not aliens from another planet, are we?” I caught Daddy looking at Mummy with that slightly raised eyebrow of skepticism – maybe the thought flitted across his mind that I might be an alien. “Every cell of our body, every molecule, every atom comes from this planet. We’re not separate from it, how could we be?”
“’…and God formed Man from the dust of the earth…’” quoted Daddy.
“Exactly! We’re not star-dust, we’re earth-dust.”
“Well, we’re also star-dust,” said Daddy. “Everything originally came from the sun.”
“Everything originally came from nothing,” I said defiantly. “But that’s not the point and that’s not what’s important right now.”
“What is important right now, dear?” asked Mummy, trying to help me stay on track.
“It’s this: the earth is alive and can vomit us out in order to protect itself just like our own bodies. It thinks. It has feelings. It is awake.”
“That’s nonsense!” protested Daddy, “That’s what’s called anthropocentrism, like a cartoon. That’s what Disney does best, it makes everything – animals, tree, houses, cars, planets, suns – all look like humans, with eyes, and noses, and smiles, and mouths, and feelings, and songs. That’s all cartoon stuff. The planet is a lump of rock with a molten core, plenty of water and an oxygen atmosphere that can just support the carbon-based organisms we call life. It doesn’t have feelings. It’s not ‘awake’.”
Mummy spoke. “This sounds a little bit like déjà-vu.” I looked questioningly at her. “You know,” she continued, “like when you told us that everything is God, including Daddy.” She laughed. Daddy growled and stuck his tongue out at her.
“Yes,” I said, “it is a little like that, isn’t it? Look, think about it like this: where is the brain of the Earth located? Obviously not at its core, that’s silly. Where do you think it is though?”
“Well I read an article recently,” said Mummy, “which talked about ants and how they have the most tiny insignificant brains consisting of just a few neurons. Yet somehow, when they all get together, I mean thousands of them, they become a super organism with a massive brain able to carry out very complex tasks. It’s as if each ant comprises of a single neuron of a brain. I would say that the brain of the Earth is something like that, sort of dispersed.”
Daddy looked at her with a very impressed look. Now it was her turn to stick her tongue out at him. The atmosphere in the room was lightening up.
“I’m all ears, sweety. Go on.”
“Well, the Earth was once a lump of dead molten rock which over millions and millions of years began to change and evolve. Somehow simple creatures began to appear in the oceans. These evolved into fish and reptiles and flying creatures and creepy-crawlies and mammals and giant dinosaurs. All these creatures were part of the planet. Do you agree?” They both nodded their heads. “But none of them, as far as we know, could think.”
“Think?” asked Mummy, “What do you mean by ‘think’?”
“Think. Like you and me. Think. Give names to things. Create language. Build things. Compose music.”
“I suppose what you are trying to say is – self-aware. No creature was self-aware until we humans came along. Only we know we are.” That’s Daddy showing how self-aware he is. And he really is.
“Yes!!” I exclaimed with delight. “Exactly. Only we know we are!”
“So?” Oops. Perhaps Daddy was not quite as self-aware as I thought.
“So. We are the brains of the Earth!! After all these years of being unawake, the Earth is finally awake. It can think. It has self-awareness through us. We are its mind. We are the Earth’s conscienceness.”
“I think that you mean ‘consciousness’, dear,” corrected Mummy.
“Yes, thank you. We are the conscious mind of the Planet Earth. It is through us that it thinks. Isn’t that lovely to know?”
“You mean that the world knows itself because we know ourselves?” asked Mummy.
“Yes. After all these millions of years of growing up, the planet has finally woken up.”
“So now,” jumped in Daddy, getting very excited, “the Earth is much like us: we have minds that are self-aware, and bodies that have very complex mechanisms like enzymes and hormones and blood flow that control our temperature, digestion, heart and all the other automatic unconscious functions that we don’t have to think about, until of course something goes wrong. So what you’re saying is that the analogous role…”
“Analogous?” I asked.
“Parallel or similar to,” explained Mummy.
“Exactly. So what you’re saying is that the analogous role, the parallel role of all the creatures and insects and rivers and seas and atmosphere and all that, is to keep the Earth healthy and balanced?” I nodded in approval.
“Well it’s not just that, is it dear?” It was Mummy’s turn. “As long as our bodies are functioning properly, we can think properly. When something goes wrong, like getting an infection which then causes a fever, it affects the mind and we can’t think straight. I don’t mean that the only reason we have bodies is for the sake of our minds. That would mean that the only reason that there are all the animals and creatures and trees and flowers and everything else is because of us humans. Because, because that would be a little too anthropocentric, I mean, too much putting humans at the center of everything.”
“No, I don’t think that’s correct,” said Daddy a little hesitatingly. “If I understand what Tara said, it would not be anthropocentric because what she is describing is a body-whole, a what’s-it-called, a holistic system. That’s it. A holistic system in which everything is working for everything else’s good. We’re the ones who make it anthropocentric. It’s only in our minds, our selfish minds that we think that we are above the rest of the system.” He started to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” I asked. He waved his hands as if he was trying to brush away the thoughts.
“Darling, what is it?”
“I suddenly remembered a joke I heard as a kid.” His face had turned a slight shade of red. “But I don’t think it’s suitable, you know.”
“Go on Daddy, I like your jokes.” Sometimes Daddy could be very funny and sometimes not so funny.
“Well,” he began looking at Mummy a little sheepishly, “the parts of the body were having an argument about who was the most important. The brain declared that obviously it was the most important because it was the organ that thought. The heart laughed and said that it was the most important because it was the organ that pumped the blood. The liver argued that it was the most important because it was responsible for cleaning the blood. And so it went on from organ to organ, from limb to limb. Finally a small voice was heard. It was the anus.” I shifted in my seat.
“Darling!” protested Mummy.
“I know what that is,” I reassured her. “It’s the kaka hole. Go on. Please,” I begged.
“OK. Well the anus declared: ‘I’m the most important part of all the body!’ and upon hearing that all the other parts laughed.”
“Poor kaka hole,” I said sympathetically.
“So the anus decided to prove what it had claimed. With all its strength, it closed tight. After a day or so, the brain began to lose focus, the heart began to palpitate, the kidneys began to stop functioning properly, and the legs began to weaken. Until they all declared that the anus was indeed the most important part of the body!”
“Good little kaka hole!” I clapped my hands gleefully.
“And what exactly was that meant to teach us?” scowled Mummy. “That we should all strive to obtain the status of the kaka hole? Somehow I don’t think that would go down well in school.” I burst out laughing just at the thought of it.
“No,” said Daddy with a big grin on his face. “No! The point of the joke…”
“What joke?” interrupted Mummy.
“The point of the joke,” continued Daddy, “is to show that all the parts are actually equally important. It’s a whole body. Each part is necessary for the whole body to function properly.”
“I think that is what’s called Holistic.” Mummy added.
“Exactly,” continued Daddy. “Holistic. That’s the word. So what Tara is saying is that if the Earth is considered a living body, then all parts of her are equally important. We are all part of this complex, holistic system with each organism playing its specific role. Including us. We’re part of the circle of life.”
Which was the signal for all three of us to start singing my favorite song:
“From the day we arrive on the planet
And blinking, step into the sun
There's more to see than can ever be seen
More to do than can ever be done
There's far too much to take in here
More to find than can ever be found
But the sun rolling high
Through the sapphire sky
Keeps great and small on the endless round.
It's the Circle of Life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the Circle
The Circle of Life.”
“But seriously,” I said after we had caught our breaths and Daddy had put down one of my dolls that he had used as a makeshift microphone, and Mummy had rearranged all my animal dolls back in their corner, “the Earth’s in trouble isn’t it?”
“It seems,” said Mummy, “that not many people nowadays think that humans are the brains of the planet in the way that you have described, sort of like a part of the same body, interrelated, interdependent. I think that most people believe that the planet and its resources are theirs to do whatever they like with. They think that the planet is an endless supply of raw materials for us to use as energy, or chemicals, or medicines, or building materials,and that somehow it will be all right.”
“You know,” said Daddy, “it does say that right in the Bible. At the beginning, or rather right after the beginning.”
“What does it say?” I asked. The Bible was not my strong point. I could never manage with the strange, antiquated English.
“If I’m not mistaken,” he continued, “it says, after God created the Human, something like: ‘Be fruitful and multiply; populate the whole planet; and conquer her.’ I think that’s right, isn’t it dear?” Mummy nodded her head. She knew her Bible.
“But that’s awful,” I said. “That’s just terrible.”
“Well, you’re our fruit and you’re not that bad,” joked Daddy. “Very sweet, I would say.”
“No, not that. The conquering bit. How could it say ‘conquer’? You conquer enemies, don’t you? The earth is not an enemy, is it? It can’t be right?” I was getting very upset. This was terrible. How could the Bible say such a thing? I could envision armies of humans marching across the surface of the world, plundering and destroying everything in its path like, like soldier ants. But when humans did it, it was ruthless. It led to the end of so many forests and the extinction of so many species. It couldn’t mean that, it just couldn’t. “Are you sure that’s what it says?” I was pleading, hoping to hear another answer. But Mummy just shrugged her shoulders and Daddy nodded his head. “I’m going to ask.”
“Ask who?” they both asked.
“Ask God of course,” I answered. They stared at me and I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
I began praising God for the wonders of the world. Not thanking but praising. Praising like complimenting. Complimenting like when Mummy asks Daddy to tell her how pretty she looks or how beautiful her new dress is. I praised God for the ants and the forests and the leaves and the trees and the water and the sky and the rain and the earth... Until, until I was somewhere else or, perhaps, no one else. And there I gently let my question float into space. And waited. And then in no time I knew. I whispered my thanks and took a deep breath and opened my eyes.
Mummy and Daddy were still staring at me.
“That’s it?” asked Daddy. I nodded and smiled. “You just closed your eyes and one second later opened them. And anyway, what do you mean ‘Ask God’?”
“Dear. Do you have anything to tell us?” Mummy asked sweetly.
I nodded again. “It doesn’t mean conquer or anything like that. It means to utilize or take advantage.” They looked at me, puzzled. “It’s like this: isn’t it true that all living things on the planet can only live in certain areas, like African elephants can only in the jungles of Africa and Indian elephants can only live in certain places in India?”
“It’s called eco-niches,” explained Daddy. “Everything adapts to areas that allows it the greatest chances to survive. Which means most food and fewest enemies.”
“Eco which is short for ecology and niche which means a suitable place,” added Mummy.
“Everything except us!” I exclaimed. “Every animal, plant and insect is stuck inside …”
“Its own eco-niches…”
“…Eco-niches, thank you. Except humans! We’re everywhere. There’s hardly a place on the planet that doesn’t have humans living there.”
“I never thought about that before,” said Mummy.
“It’s true,” chimed in Daddy. “If you think about it, we’re everywhere: in the hottest areas and the coldest, in the highest and the lowest, in the wettest and the driest. I think that with the exception of the North and South Poles and the most deserted deserts, humans are probably in every eco-niche on the planet.”
“Just like that verse you quoted from Genesis: ‘be fruitful and multiply and fill the whole earth’. But what’s that got to do with conquering?” asked Mummy.
“It’s not conquering!” I reminded her empathically. “We’re special. Not like the other living things. God wants us to spread out and live on all parts of the earth.”
“Wait!” interrupted Daddy. “Let me do this. We had to overcome the natural constrictions that would have kept us in a very limited eco-niche. We had to learn how to utilize the resources around us in order to survive environments that were extremely hostile.”
“Tell us about fire, Daddy.”
“Well let me see now. Fire.” Daddy scrambled for words.
“’Tell me the secret of Man’s red fire.’ That’s what you mean, isn’t it?” asked smart Mummy, looking at me.
Suddenly, Daddy got it too. He picked up my stuffed monkey and started to sing King Louis’ song from the Jungle Book.
When the song was over, Mummy said: “Well, I think that it’s our ability to handle fire that’s at the core of technology, and technology is what enables us to build houses that protect us from the cold and the hot…”
“Especially if they have central heating in the winter and air conditioning in the summer,” added Daddy half-jokingly.
“…and fire allows us to make everything else. All our electronics, chemistry, engines, metals are all possible because of our ability to utilize fire.”
“King Louis was right,” said Daddy. “Fire is the secret to being a human being because only humans can break out of the prison of their eco-systems and be free.”
“That’s what he wanted more than anything else,” I said sympathetically, “to be free from that awful temple. Even though he was king of the apes, he knew that it was meaningless if he couldn’t do whatever he wanted. And in order to do that, he needed the secret of fire.”
“So?” asked Daddy impatiently.
“So?” I asked with a big smile on my face. “So God wants us to be everywhere. That’s what it says – ‘be fruitful and multiply; populate the whole planet.’ And then in order to be able to do that, God adds: ‘and utilize her,’ use nature, make fire, control fire, build houses, build villages, build, cities, create languages, books, culture. Be fruitful! It’s so beautiful. God wants us to be human in every possible way.”
“Hundreds of languages and forms of writing.”
“Multiples upon multiples of living styles.”
“Hundreds of variations in cuisine.”
“Thousands upon thousands of dressing modes.”
“A plethora of literature, folk stories, music, memories.”
“You see?” I said. “’Be fruitful and multiply’ is not just about creating children. It’s about creating everything that the human mind is capable of. God loves…what’s the word?”
“You?” suggested Daddy. I shook my head. “Us?” I shook my head again.
“It begins with a D.”
“No!” I laughed. “I mean yes, but that’s not the word I’m looking for. It rhymes with universe but means more than one.”
“Diversity! God loves diversity!” shouted Daddy.
“Yes,” I said. “God loves diversity. But..”
“But what, dear?” asked Mummy. Suddenly the joy and happiness that had enveloped us got sucked out the room. A heaviness descended, a darkness that blocked out the light, like the darkness that had covered my globe before I was sick. I shivered. Mummy and Daddy felt it too. “What is it?”
“It’s not good out there, is it?” I asked. “I could feel the earth crying in pain. It was like…like a mother having her children taken from her. It was terrible.” Mummy put her arms around me and held me tight.
“You’re right. We’re not being very nice to the Earth,” said Mummy. “We’re losing many, many species every year.”
“Not only that,” added Daddy, “but we’re also losing human cultures.” I looked at him in puzzlement. “Yes,” he continued, “there is a growing trend today for cultures to stop developing their own unique expressions and joining the global culture. It’s one of the side effects of what we call ‘globalization’.”
“It’s ironic…” said Mummy. “At the same time that we are recognizing that we are all on one planet and that we are all interconnected, that one culture begins to dominate and overwhelm the others.”
“But why?” I asked. “God loves differences. I told you that.” There was silence. We sat in my bedroom in silence. Even my angels were silent. After a while, I said, “Now do you understand what I meant by the danger of the earth vomiting us out? It can happen.” We sat in more silence.
Without warning, the Angel of Seeing began to twist and turn as if she were trying to tell me something.
“Oh no!” I suddenly remembered Marty. Tears filled my eyes.
“What is it?” asked Mummy.
“I just remember Marty.”
“Who’s Marty?” asked Daddy as he glanced at Mummy.
“He was a man I met in the hospital. He was all alone. The nurse said he was in a … a coma. His body was there but there was no one inside.”
“Poor man,” said Mummy.
“Sometimes people wake up out of comas. Even years later, added Daddy.
“I don’t think that Marty is coming back,” I said. “But now I understand.”
“Understand what, dear.”
“I understand what will happen to the Earth if we were to disappear.”
“Now I don’t understand,” said Daddy.
“You see,” I continued, “if the Earth should vomit us out, it would be like Marty with no Marty. The Earth would go unconscious again. There would be no one on the planet that would be able to think like us. The Earth would go into a coma. After all those millions of years that it took for humans to come out of the earth, for the Earth to gain consciousness, it would go back to sleep and have to wait for any number of millions of years for another species to evolve that can think like us.”
“And they would probably end up messing it up as well,” said Mummy wistfully.
“That reminds me of that final scene in Planet of the Apes,” said Daddy. I looked at him blankly. “It’s a movie about a planet in which the apes rule the humans. In the final scene, Charlton Heston escapes from the apes and he finds himself on a beach. He turns a corner, and there he sees the remains of the Statue of Liberty. And he realizes that the planet of the apes is Earth – his own home – sometime in the future. He realizes that somehow the humans have lost their supremacy at the top of the chain to more intelligent creatures. And when he realizes this, he falls to his knees and cries and curses.”
“There is no chain,” I said sadly. “Only chains.” We sat in silence for a while. Then I added, “I wouldn’t want to live if I was in chains. I wouldn’t want to live if I couldn’t be me. That’s what God wants – God wants me to be me.”
In memory of Marty Lee. May our memory of him be a blessing.