Sunday, October 16, 2011

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner... or Not—Episode 1

(based on Genesis 7—a story of creation)

The thing about friendship is that it's often easier to recognize it's absence than it's presence. For many of his neighbors, Noah was just the kindly old kook who lived across the way. Sure he always had a encouraging smile, a helping hand, a listening ear, good humor, sage advice and food to share, but sadly, at their own loss, few labeled that "friendship," although all benefited from it.

Because we place so little significance on friendship itself, more on its absence, it's hard to think of the quiet grace of friendship or neighborliness as being a major theme of the Noah epic. In fact, neighborliness is such a quiet grace that we would likely not have the Noah story if it were not for the dramatic ironies that come in to stir the pot.

One day not unlike every other day for the past however many years, Noah and his family were making repairs on the boat, stocking provisions and teaching swimming classes at the nearby pond. By now they were living out of the ark. It just made sense. There was plenty of room, and it had kinda become the center of much activity there on the Mesopotamian countryside. Of course, they hosted a community garden for those without their own land upon which to grow. They also hosted a monthly swop-meet and daily skills classes of all types, from weaving to building. Little of what they did attracted the attention and assistance of their reasonably well-situated or more affluent neighbors, but they did capture the consideration of those with little. The activity at the ark also garnered the scrutiny of those who lived in the wild lands a few miles beyond the ark heading away from the city. These were people who harbored some real suspicion of the society building up around the city, supported by the surrounding farms, but unlike the nomadic herders, they had not completely abandoned all things related to a stationary life. They simply chose the terms upon which they would interact with either farmers or herders or city dwellers when they had to. Every few weeks one or another small group of wilderness dwellers—"wild ones," as they were called by those thoughtful enough not to call them "savages"—would journey back and forth into the cultivated lands to trade for supplies as necessary.

As usual, there was a lot of commotion around the ark, and Noah was lost in thought considering that at 600-years-old and awaiting his first grandchild he might actually pass on before the tragic loss to come. Noah, who had been bent over spreading pitch on a section of the ark's hull, stood up wiping the sweat from his brow with his forearm thinking how hot it had gotten so early in the season, when he noticed the silence behind all the hustle and bustle of people. Where were the birds? Where were the cicadas singing their incessant mating song? There was nothing. Just hush. Not a creature was stirring close-by, except people. It's as if the rest of creation had paused to listen to something that humanity was ignoring or had forgotten to hear.

Noah was disquieted. He looked around not really knowing what he was looking for. His eyes came to rest on a nearby buck of water. He had been watching it for nearly 30 seconds before he realized why. The water in the bucket was quivering at a regular beat as if someone were tapping it. "That's odd," Noah thought to himself, mesmerized by the sight.

Suddenly Noah's fixation was broken by the shout of his son, Shem, hanging on a rope pitching another portion of the ship's hull several stories up above Noah. "Abba! Abba!" Shem yelled, "Look!"

Noah's eyes followed his son's pointing finger. They were good eyes for their age, still strong, but at first, all he could make out at ground level were the shivering tree tops. Again, he was struck by the peculiarity of the moment. "Trees don't normally shake like that," he thought. Then he saw the dust.

It started as haze, the kind that one often sees on a hot day as the heat escapes the ground. As it rose and began to obscure the trees, Noah knew what it was, and he thought he knew what was making it, but he couldn't imagine why so close and apparently getting closer. The trembling in the the water was now in the ground and quickly becoming an audible rumble. Then he saw the tallest of them: first, the giraffe, then the elephant. Then the middlings came into view: the wildebeests, rhinos and hippos, antelope, gazelles and great cats. Finally, smaller creeping things. Some running, some walking, some riding, but all moving quite determinately toward them. And as if instantly, because Noah's attention had been focused on the ground, the sky was thick with flapping wings.

Such a din of noise pressed in on Noah that it stunned him. The sound blew pass him, bounced off the ark at his back and echoed as an singular, indistinguishable, blood-chilling roar in his ears. Noah froze. He couldn't think of what to do.

"The doors! Open the doors!" a woman shouted off to his right. It was his wife. We'll call her Naomi.

One discernible word had broken through Noah's stupor. "Doors... doors..." he mumbled. Noah stumbled forward, not particularly toward the ark, not yet conscious of his own thoughts. His eyes were still on the animals who were coming with all due haste, as if they had an appointment for which they dared not be late. "Doors..." he mouthed again. The motion felt familiar to his lips but it still had no meaning.

"Noah," Naomi's firm fingers gripped both Noah's biceps, "make room for the animals! Go open the doors." Naomi then moved away, motioning to her daughters-in-law, who had come running up from the lake, to change direction and follow her.

Finally Noah got his wits about him. He ran up the gangplank, thinking to himself, "Hope I put cut these doors high enough... from the ground. That's going to be a lot of weight pushing down in the water." Making the top of the ramp, Noah pushed the doors wide, first the left, then the right, and disappeared into the darkness. It took his eyes a full thirty seconds to adjust to the darkness, so he could not work as quickly as he had hoped. "Good thing we built that rail last week around the hole we cut in the floor of the main deck. Those giraffes would be thoroughly cramped down below." He could hear the creak and slap of wood on the deck above him. "That must be Ham or--"

"Abba, what can I do to help," Japheth asked walking in behind Noah.

"Go below and open every stall. Ham has already started upstairs. I have this floor."

"Sure. Then I'll start distributing hay."

Noah now started to work feverishly. He figured he only had a few more minutes before the animals were upon them. All sorts of questions careened through his mind, "Will we have enough room? Have we collected enough water? How about food? How will we satiate the carnivores once the rains come? Oh crap, will the waste systems work? What's 'Plan B' if they don't? Will the cages hold for the most dangerous animals? How do we stay safe in the mist of animals that usually hunt each other? How will we herd every animal into the right place? Is there something we've overlooked? Elohim couldn't have given me a week's notice?"

It was probably the last time for a while Noah was able to hear himself think.

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