Sunday, October 10, 2010

Prologue

He was entering what was perhaps the final stretch of a life he had never quite mastered or understood. He had been luckier than most other humans and yet he was immersed in darkness much of the time. Whenever he was able to pull himself out of his tired self-absorption, he looked out onto a reality that was deceptively ordinary, but many decades of living in the world had taught him that life was more complicated than its mundane fa├žade suggested. Everywhere he looked in the larger world, humans grappled with an existence that seemed to be governed by random chance, and what many of them called “fate” or “luck”, as much as it was by human intent. He saw most of his fellow humans clinging to the hope that there was a larger reality beyond their sight, one controlled by a god or gods or spirits, a plane of existence to which they could turn for solace, reassurance, and meaning. In their fondest hopes, most humans wished for some form of eternal survival beyond the inevitable grave that awaited each of them. He could no longer hold such beliefs in his own heart, however much he wanted or needed to. He secretly hoped that he was wrong about the unseen world, but he suspected that he wasn't.

Everywhere the human enterprise seemed to be just barely keeping ahead of disaster. Many times it couldn’t even do that. Everything seemed to be at the edge of chaos at any given moment, and yet, remarkably, the human expedition stumbled blindly forward, heading…where? Getting through the day was the business of the vast bulk of his fellow travelers, and his kind had done so, in one form or another, in one setting or another, in  one way or another, on a continuous basis for more centuries than he could comprehend. He had studied a little of the story of the humans, at least those parts that had been written down, and he couldn’t see any time in their experience when life hadn’t been either at the edge of chaos or swept up in it completely. He thought about the twists and turns of his own uncertain life, the often strange depths of his thoughts and feelings, the kaleidoscopic mixture of associations that the world triggered inside of him, and the diaphanous images and inaudible sounds that floated in the perpetual river running through his head. Standing in the evening quiet, he realized that every one of those of his kind who had ever walked on this tiny, insignificant planet had lived their own unique, unscripted drama, and been the center of their own incomprehensible universe. The history of the humans, he surmised, had been so strange, so filled with unexpected events, so baffling in its complexity, and so difficult to understand because it was a reflection of the interior world of those who had made it and been engulfed by it, people who lived in a physical reality they only vaguely understood, one that shaped them and affected them at every turn.

In his presumption, he formed an idea about why human history had taken the course it had. The idea was his suspicion that no one really, fully, completely, comprehensively understood themselves, or how they had come to be the way they were, and it did not matter if they thought they did. He decided to follow this suspicion wherever it led him, little realizing that not only would he seek to understand history’s course—he would eventually seek to understand why history had come to be at all.


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