The Darkest Hour Before Dawn


But, daily, as I trod the earth’s disintegrating crust, I knew it was a lie. The world was under sentence of death. In the searching light of truth, I saw how ‘out of true’ its values had become. The vision of New Jerusalem was condemned to everlasting distortion because of the conspiracy of silence about death.

So death, given the offensive, became a foe. He set out to avenge himself, assumed a grimmer visage than need be, deceived by his aptitude for masquerade. He feasted on human fear, abandoning his phantom form and becoming more palpable than life. Death did not suffer a crisis of energy because he consumed ours. Death did not suffer famine or homelessness, did not need to campaign for liberation. Death was having the time of our life, laughing behind the backs of those he stalked like a Nemesis, who, in shunning him, were ironically compelled to entertain him at their tables.

It was as though the whole cosmos was afflicted with morbid disease, spreading from tissue to tissue, limb to limb. People walked the streets, pallid and drawn, enervated by hypervigilance and from filling their lungs with pollution. Nowhere was the air really pure. The water they imbibed was not living water; it came from sources poisoned by effluent that had to be filtered and filtered again and still it was tainted and did not refresh the palate. The rivers flowed foul and dark as the Styx, an unwholesome habitation for struggling creatures. Many fish of the rivers wasted and died. Likewise the fish of the sea. For the oil that was spilled on its troubled waters was crude and restored no calm, only clung to the feathers of seabirds, paralysed their wings and bound them to the earth where they perished. They lay strewn on the shores among the cancerous corpses of fish and sea mammals. They were places of great carnage, the borders between water, air and earth: things driven into an alien sphere could not be sustained.

The elements rebelled. There were tornadoes that tore up trees and plucked homes from their foundations. Fire seethed through the earth’s fractured shell, spewed molten lava and devastated cities. Elsewhere, tsunamis deluged the landscape, rivers burst their veins and swept through the streets and over hearths, snatching valued possessions. There were gluts and droughts and famines. Scraps of humanity wandered in arid places without food, their flesh shrink-wrapped upon pitiful frames, having nothing to live for but the charity of those more fortunate.

There was no sense to be made of it, none at all.

For the floods could not be harnessed to water the dry plains and what some were deprived of ran to fat on the affluent nations so that their hearts could not bear the weight of their surfeiting and they were starved of life just the same. They knew that tomorrow they would die, so they ate and drank and were merry and plundered the earth until there was no more to be had. Then they grew pale and threw up their hands in despair. Economy! We must eke out the bit that is left to us. But they had no notion of the principles of economy, had never practised the art. (Could the leopard change his spots or the camel his sinuous spine to pass through the needle’s eye?) Economy they equated not with self-investment in a common good, but with grasping whatever they could for as little as possible.

So the deserts encroached year by year and the overwrought soil was harder to till. Folk reaped little reward for the sweat of their brow. But where was the Higher Authority to turn to for guidance in putting their house in order?

 See! God is dead!

Indeed God was dead, at least dead to the world. God’s House was empty, citizens' houses were empty, empty and to let with vacant possession. But the plight of the homeless was mourned up and down. By day they forlornly wandered the streets and at night sought repose in the places of passage, in arcades, under bridges, on stations. There were houses enough and to spare, though not fit for habitation and too costly to repair. We have a new building programme, they were told. When New Jerusalem comes, you shall have palaces. You have only to step on the property ladder.

Then people said to themselves: What’s it all for? Why are we here? Where is the order, the sequence to contain us? To whom can we refer?

And the doctors dealt out opiates to subdue anxieties and said: Come back in a fortnight if you do not feel better and can explain in four minutes where it hurts. The scientists said: We are on the brink of a discovery, but we need funds. And the politicians set up commissions on borrowed money to look into matters and said: We must redistribute the nation’s wealth. 'To him that hath shall be given and to him that hath not shall be taken even that he hath’ must be exploited. Our white hope for the poor is the trickle-down effect. And they passed many laws to rectify wrongs. And it was there, on the statute book, that the wrongs had been rectified.

But the honey-tongued psychologists were perhaps the most beguiling of all. They readily acknowledged that humanity was bred from the clay and the mire and that what passed from dust to dust in a continuous revolution could not aspire to be gold. Nevertheless, they said, this is not Life. Life is not full of trauma and injustice. The problem lies buried in infancy when our forebears betrayed us.

These things sounded rational to ears grown attuned to sophistry. It was comforting to be absolved of all blame. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden had been denounced as a myth long ago, but no chink in logic was perceived, only a drain on resources. Folk began to lament the life others had denied them. They nursed their grievances in order to dispel guilt, but only became charged with frustration.

Then some rose up and demanded their rights and the air was oppressive with factions contending for liberation. Terrorists devised weapons and laid them in the path of their brothers. In crowded places they were laid, in streets, aboard planes, beneath cars, in hotel foyers. Men went in search of their lives and wives were widowed at night. The gutters flowed scarlet and children were forbidden to venture outside. A scapegoat was needed and lives were sacrificed to appease the craving for expiation. Many were martyred for the cause, but where was he possessed of so great a love as to lay aside his life for his friend, to find life in losing it? The factions ran to mutually exclusive extremes in pursuit of that strangely inaccessible freedom. Revolution! they cried. More blood must be spilled! But what had they purchased but debts? Where was the life that was strangled out of existence so that life-swapping, wife-swapping and other desperate diversions were rife? Everywhere humanity was in chains. Hostages were daily held. The prisons were full to overflowing and even a life-sentence shrank to a very few years with good behaviour.

Houses were divided against themselves, the sons from the fathers, the wives from the husbands, upper from lower and sinister from dexter: houses, classes, parliaments, kingdoms, divided and cross-divided against their own allies and partisans. Because in warfare it is necessary to identify with one side or the other, to adopt a totalitarian view and become a pawn in the strategy.

The price of life was death.

Yet mankind subscribed to the Truth it could not swallow and thereby perpetuated the travesty. Kingdoms united in altruistic bonds of self-interest that by economic kinship they might lay claim to quantities of this world’s goods and defend themselves from the Enemy in concert.

Meanwhile arms were amassed in dark places underground. It was a matter of pride whose weapons were the most potent, since what could destroy aroused greater awe than the creative capability. It was symbolic indeed, back to front and upside down, that the splitting of what was nuclear and whole, the last resource of integrity, should produce a mine of fresh energy.

Weapons were tested in desolate places to see what they could do. And the whole earth was riven with the dilemma. The aerial structure of the universe was ruptured. Toxic miasmas were released into the ether. Disfigurements and diseases were visited upon the newborn. There was no escape from the cycle of destruction.

But some were beginning to murmur among themselves. If God is dead, who then has ordained such a fate? And they looked at one another. They even saw that with a supreme stroke of ego they were rationalising means of mass suicide. How bitter was the revelation – to have to sit down to a banquet of ashes in the throes of starvation. If God is dead, we are doomed. They turned and spoke, their voices rising in accusation:

 Where is your panacea, O Doctor?

 Where your humility, you who advance the frontiers of knowledge?

 Where is your Monarchy, O Minister of the Crown?

 Where is the Bridegroom you have espoused, O Church?

No answer came. Was it possible to weigh anchor in an abyss, or secure belief with a credit card? The predicament produced some deep-seated anxieties. Industries proliferated to maintain the cleanliness mankind had heard tell was the next thing to Godliness. Everything was to be clean and made new, new, new. It was more economical to discard what showed signs of wear than to try to make it good.

Then people began to see their carbon footprints in the sands of time. We must find a Way Forward, they said. We must return to our green innocence, seek Renewable Energy.

Urgent efforts were made to recycle waste but researchers were hard put to discover the chemistry that would break down indigestible substances and do it cheaply. Unlike the perfect economy of nature which bred life out of decay and achieved its own end with new beginnings.

And while they were there, in their laboratories, scratching their heads over alternative solutions, they stumbled across the first principle of science. They’d learnt it way back from their textbooks, though they didn’t know it by heart. Matter can neither be created nor destroyed.

O Evolution, Revolution, O Creation turned full circle. What a weight of hope and despair is compounded in that law. What condemnation! What salvation! O Death! O Life!

from Next Year In Jerusalem