What We Forgot

In the beginning, an old story goes, there was nothing. The Earth was waste and void, and darkness moved over the ocean. Before long, there was light. Soon after that, the scene shifts to a garden inhabited by a man, a woman, and a talking snake. 

It wasn’t long before there was a misunderstanding. The snake ended up sentenced to crawl on its belly eating dust, the man to toil in the fields, and the woman to suffer grievous labor pains and be ruled over by the man. 

All quite dramatic and that is by design: the story of the talking snake is a smokescreen, one of many humanity has created over the millennia. 

The true story goes like this:

In the beginning, there were bacteria. Trillions of bacteria floated in the shallow seas, and sunlight moved over the water. Some bacteria got fancy. Eventually, some of the fancy ones grew fins. Then bones and lungs and feet, even hair. 

Fast forward a few million years and a splinter group of fancy bacteria with hair and feet figured out how to walk on their hind legs. A couple thousand generations later, voilá: humans appeared.

Go us. 

Everything went great, for a while. We developed language. With language came stories. We worked with our hands, too. We harnessed fire, domesticated plants and animals, and developed the arts of pottery and weaving.

We told all kinds of stories and invented all sorts of machines. Between the stories and the machines, we got way out of hand, created a dizzying array of gods—Anansi, Shiva, Huitzilopotchtli, Yahweh, Capital. Each came complete with its own set of rituals, offerings, self-serving stories, and priests. 

The priests of the great god Capital told us that an invisible hand would transform our collective greed into the most good for the most people. Like most priests, they were liars, but we wanted the shiny things the amazing machines made, so we believed their stories.  

We forgot that there is no such thing as something for nothing. We wanted convenience, we wanted personalization, and we wanted it delivered now. We wanted to pay later, in installments. 

We got all of that and more because we forgot the Earth doesn’t belong to us.

We belong to her because she is our Mother. 

We’ve done unto our Mother with coal smoke and tire fires, with strip mines and hydrogen bombs. With hog farms and bottom trawlers.

When our Mother started crying, we answered with more of the same. More bulldozers, more soybeans, more feedlots, more oil tankers. More war. More of us. Millions more. Billions more. 

When the insects started dying off, we fed bees sugar water and demanded honey. When farm yields started to drop, we doubled down on pesticides and chemical fertilizer and ordered salad greens. When the fish stocks crashed, we fed the oceans plastic and screamed for sushi.

We forgot smoke has to go somewhere and that we only have one planet. So we’ve got poisoned air and barren seas, parched ravines where rivers used to be, deserts where once were forests. We sowed terminator genes and oil spills; we’re reaping mega-fires and microbursts. 

We forgot that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and now Mama’s gone to get the belt. We’re waiting, red-faced and sobbing, insisting it’s not our fault. Our story is the snake told us we could do whatever we wanted. We’re sticking to it because we’ve forgotten we created the story of the talking snake so we could pretend somebody besides ourselves told us we could be as gods.

This story grew from an assignment to write a story that included a free-form list. If you liked this one, you might also like Advertisement for Inclusion in a Study.

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

Leave me a prompt (a living thing, an inanimate object, and a location) and I will write a story and tag you when it’s published.

Jim’s Taco Fund

Flip me a fiver? I need to buy some mice to feed my talking snake.