The Moment God Put the World On Hold

20 10 2009

All humanity was right in the middle of doing its everyday thing, sitting through traffic jams in Los Angeles, staring blankly through office windows in New York, resting over a cold beer in London, and playing computer games in Tel Aviv. Then, without warning, time came to an abrupt halt. The second hand of clocks halted about one millionth of a second past the one on their way to the two. A man in London froze with a swallow of beer two thirds of the way down his esophagus. A woman in New York never went home from work. A man in Los Angeles never got to work. A child in Tel Aviv stared blankly at his television, frozen like an inanimate doll. The whole world was denied its very next second, which had been assumed to be forthcoming, as naturally as all of the countless seconds before it.

The lights went on, and the desk lamp clicked off. God stood and tossed the Story Of Humanity rudely on a shelf with a frustrated sigh. He could almost have helped himself to an aspirin and gone to bed, but he retired, instead, to the drawing room, to sit and chat with the lot of us about our comings and goings over a cup of spiced wine and ginger snaps. It was not unusual for him to pause in his writings of history. Of course, the affected individuals remained unaware of their peril. An infinitely small expanse of time is not long enough to affect the perceptions of men. There was a time, even, somewhere in between the Dark Ages and the birth of Jan Hus, when he laid his work aside to pursue other interests for an entire century, before he finally pulled it back off the shelf and began to write again. We had asked him if he was using the time to plan out what to do, to which he responded with an insulted sideways glance and a remark, “You know better than that.” We’re not sure what bored him about the story. Perhaps it was not something in the story that bored him, but perhaps it was something that wasn’t in the story that drove him to take his Century Of Jubilee. It’s not so much that he had lost sight of the end. The entire work was already laid out beforehand on a pre-determined synopsis. The story would get there eventually. When a man has his entire life to write a story, he usually doesn’t mind taking some time off in the middle of writing to relax and enjoy life for a while. In the end, the story continues on as though a pause had never occurred, and no one is the wiser.

This time was different, though. Years grew into centuries. Other entire works came and went in that time. One was a story of a paradise not lost, that developed into an epic series spanning thousands of volumes. Even that story is still in the making. When you know you’re going to live forever, there’s never any reason to put a final end to any story. One book seems to draw to a very definite closure, and we think that he has brought it at once to a final conclusion, but millennia later, he starts a new story where the old one left off, and the principles are none the wiser. They know that an earth-shaking change has taken place in their history, but they are unaware that their very existence had come to a temporary end within the timeline of God.

See, there’s a certain problem to being omniscient and everlasting. Not only does a thing weigh on the divine mind without relent, but it does so until the inevitable moment when he makes the decision to, once again, take up the implement and begin to do something about it. A man burns in Hell, and there’s nothing to be done about it, so he chooses not to bother himself with it much, but it’s always there in the back of his mind. Eons pass in the time of God, while Hell is frozen in time, but, then, inevitability forces a passing mention, and the flames of Hell leap for one more moment in the vast dark abyss. As eternity begets eternity, moment adds upon moment, and Hell goes on.

We were not concerned about the continuance of humanity, for it did not affect us much, and we knew that it was only a matter of time before he began again and continued the story unto completion. Centuries grew into millennia, and millennia grew into eons, and soon we were beginning to wonder if God had actually abandoned the story. He had his whole life to finish it, which meant that he might never go back, but, then, eternity made his return seem inevitable. Sooner or later, he was bound to pick it up and try again. When eons grew into something for which there is no word, I finally asked him what he intended to do about the thing.

“Oh, I’ll finish it, I suppose,” he said, without much enthusiasm, setting down an earlier work and gazing idly at the fireplace. “The end is already decided. I just have to get around to making it happen.”

In the dimness of the drawing room, I saw the firelight reflecting in his eyes. Then I saw it reflecting in a tear. He gave a disapproving look at the work in his hand, before setting it on the end table and marching up the stairs to the study. As I waited, I heard him shuffle about, digging around for that long-neglected tome, buried somewhere under the romances and fantasies. I figured he’d get interested in one of those and take to reading it long before he ever uncovered the sought-out Story Of Humanity. I was wrong. He walked slowly into the room, gazing at the leather cover, wiping the dust from the gilt lettering (or, was that “guilt” lettering?). He glanced thoughtfully at the fireplace, and then he looked at me. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “I suppose I could just burn it and be done with it, but then it would eat at me until I re-wrote it, anyway, so I might as well just save myself the trouble.”

After a time, I asked to see it, and he tossed it directly into my lap. The book had already been bound with exactly the number of necessary pages in it, for he knew its exact length from the very beginning. Every word had been considered and carefully measured. Effectively, the story had already been composed. It just hadn’t been written. I opened to the last completed page, expecting to see something dramatic and terrible, that might drive its own author to cease writing. On it was nothing of significance. People were just living out their daily lives. Nothing was unusually wrong. No abortion had been committed for at least five minutes. No rape or theft had happened for almost two hours. There were a few threatening despots seeking to take control of the world, but this was not anything out of the ordinary. Then, I figured, it was not what was happening, but what was about to happen, that drove the author to lay aside his pen.

“What? I don’t get it. There’s nothing here to get upset about, is there?” I asked, stupidly.

He gave a tired sigh and replied, “No, there’s not much there right now. There will be, later, but we’re not there yet.”

I figured, and said, “So, basically, you got bored out of writing?”

He looked up at me, sharply, and told me, “Bored? Have I ever been bored? No, I am not bored, but I am unmotivated. In the next second, there is not one tragedy, not one achievement, no salvation, no apostasy and no awe and wonder. No library could contain the number describing the quantity of subatomic particles traveling in all of their destined paths. No mind but mine knows the many conversations taking place all over the world, nor what lies in the hearts of men and women everywhere. Yet, all of this complexity is for naught in the next second. In the second after that, there is a thought that passes through the mind of a man just south of Los Angeles, who wonders if, perhaps, he has slipped into the lukewarm cesspool of mediocrity. In that second, a life will spark the beginnings of a personal revolution. In that second, someone will decide to make an effort that will make this whole thing worthwhile.”

“This whole book will be made worthwhile by the thought of one man?” I asked, confused.

“No,” he replied, patiently, “This whole second will be made worthwhile by the thought of one man, but that doesn’t happen until the next second. Right now, the world follows the path of least resistance. All of humanity runs like water down the hill, into the gutter, and from there into the sewer. They might as well be animals, concerned only with what’s for dinner and finding someone to mate with. Day follows day, and no one ventures a change, because no one cares. I mean, if there were, at least, a particularly antagonistic villain, I might have something to work with, but right now I have neither hero nor villain, hot nor cold, up nor down. To you, a second is but a fleeting thing. For me it’s a very long time. Yet, here I can hold thousands of years in my hand, and I can recall everything in my mind in a second.” He thought about it for a moment, then continued, sedately, “The greatest of all tragedies, the damnation of the world, had gripped all humanity. There was an answer. The Christ died a horrible death to redeem the world. He suffered so that they might survive. A mere two thousand years later, no one cares. They’re more interested in trivialities and simple pleasures, things of no worth. For one whole tedious second the whole world is up to absolutely nothing. Not one person in all that mess is looking for anything beyond the tangible.”

“Still,” I said, trying to be encouraging, “the next second looks promising.” I handed him the work, and he sat staring thoughtfully at it for a while.

“Yes…yes, I suppose it does. Yes, and getting to the next second requires first getting through this one. I suppose I’d better just roll up my sleeves and slog through it, or we’ll never get anywhere with this thing.” Then, he reached over and took up his pen, applying it to the work and restarting a project that had lain forlorn in the attic of his mind for longer than anyone could conceive.

Somewhere in Los Angeles, someone honked a horn and grumbled about being late for work. Somewhere in New York, a woman chatted on an internet forum to kill time at work. In London, a man finished a swallow and continued to gripe to a pal about his lazy wife. In Tel Aviv, a child congratulated himself for reaching a new level in his game.

And somehow, somewhere, a man uttered a violent expletive and cursed himself loudly for his own shallowness.