The Garden of Eden
Well, there’s plenty of paradise around here so long as I look at it. A vase of sweet peas in front of me, looking good, smelling good. I read an obituary in the Times, not about a soldier or a statesman, but about a man whose life’s work was about the study and nurture of sweet peas. If he’s in heaven now, it won’t have come as a shock to someone whose earthly life was spent smelling sweet peas.
The kitchen door is open. Outside, on the clothesline, little children’s clothes are drying in the warm, midsummer sunshine. Lunch is ready on the pine table, tomato salad, hummus, bread and a glass of Greek wine.
Am I alive to sufficiency? Am I alive to what I have or am I thinking about what I haven’t? Am I alive to now or in the yesterday of regret and resentment, obstacles in the hallways of my soul? The dead-eyed dodo is feeding in the ammunition belt of grievance and there’ll be no qualms felt when the trigger of the gun is pulled. The advantage of being dead inside is I have no feelings. Being ruthless is easy.
What a state to get into. Yeah, but it wasn’t my fault. It was Eve’s. What a stupid woman. You’ve got ninety-nine out of a hundred in the good news department but, instead of being blissfully satisfied, you want the lot, the whole one hundred.
Cain and Abel
‘Now Abel kept flocks and Cain worked the soil.’
Major Davis used to stop in the tavern after work in the theatre business for half a pint of bitter before going home to a cold beef sandwich for supper. He was in the army in Palestine just before the state of Israel came into being and was sometimes caught up in tensions between the indigenous population and immigrant settlers.
A settler saw some land not apparently in use. He planted a grove of citrus trees and pumped in water from Lake Galilee despite there being a well on the land. But the well was dry except for a short period in the year when it filled with water again. Nomads, who’d known for generations about the behaviour of this well, turned up as usual when the well had filled with water but instead of leading their flocks to water, they were confronted by a fence and a ‘Private Property’ sign. They were of course angry and called in the forces of law and order which, at the time, was Major Davis and the British army.
If anyone could arbitrate it was Major Davis, an old-fashioned gentleman who didn’t, however, reserve his courtesy and good manners for his own class. He treated everyone the same.
‘Did you keep the peace?’ I asked.
He looked into the distance with a sad smile. ‘Only for a while.’
In my own mind, is there both a settler and a nomad? I need certainties and a scaffold of routine. But to avoid death by boredom, I need uncertainty, a nomadic mind and sometimes nomadic feet as well. As usual, the art is to harmonise these two energies and not to set them in opposition to each other and create a struggle for dominion. Cain lacked the confidence to find and enjoy balance. He chose strife.
Cain, I reckon, was a sulking, self-hating depressive. I relate to him. And it’s the way of depression to make it worse by comparing oneself unfavourably with others. That’s how Cain related to his brother but instead of keeping the emotion in check, he surrendered to it and murdered Abel. God, of course, could see it all coming and had warned him. ‘Sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you but you must master it.’ All in vain.
I don’t know about God, the devil or sin, but I do know I get a voice in my head which says, ‘You’ve got to master this or it will destroy you.’ Master what? Self-destructive tendencies I suppose, married madly to an obsessive drive for self-preservation.
It seems against natural justice that Abel died and Cain lived on. Who knows though that Abel didn’t live on in another sphere that was more pleasant than Cain’s life in the Land of Nod where there was probably hardly a moment when he wasn’t tortured by his memories.
It’s dark now. We’re tired. Our information said there should be a petrol station and a campsite but it seemed a forlorn hope here in the empty steppes of Asia. And yet here, somewhere between old Armenia and old Persia, the petrol station appeared. It’s closed though and there’s no campsite. But wait, there was a Volkswagen camper van parked up behind the dilapidated building and a tent set up next to it. We parked the Mercedes and emerged into a great stillness which was broken by the sounds of laughter and English being spoken by two female silhouettes in the flickering light of the tent. Charlie said, ‘Go over to the tent and ask those women if they fancy chocolate cake and cream.’
The women joined us. One of them was wearing a cowboy hat and, as I looked at her eyes, below the brim they grew bigger and bigger with surprise. We knew each other, knew each other very well. It was Sheila Tapp. We’d been in the same class at school for four years and, when I was a new boy, she’d gone out of her way to make me feel welcome.
In the morning, as I emerged from our tent, I had another huge surprise. The sun was burning away the cloud cover to reveal a blue day and a gigantic, snow-covered mountain, the most unique and beautiful mountain I’d ever seen. It didn’t seem part of any range. It stood alone. Sheila Tapp came up to me and said, ‘Can you see Noah’s Ark up there? That’s Mount Ararat.’
Abraham, the father of both Jews and Muslims, a great patriarch, a great, great man you might think, if you believe in great men that is. But do great men pimp out their wives to save their skins? That’s what Abraham did. He came close to murdering his son as well. Maybe he was jealous of youth. But mature adults don’t own up to this. Instead they make up a bizarre story about their murderous inner voice actually being the voice of God. Is this what old generals are about when they send young men to war?
Photography by Sarah Cheverton.