“God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good”Genesis 1:3-4
Imagine the thrill of reading “In the beginning!” Not “Once upon a time,” which, though a real favorite of mine, was how pretend stories began. This was a real story, and it began at the very beginning of everything.
I could hardly believe that the secrets of the very beginning of all things that ever have been, were here for any ordinary person to read. How many people get to read about the beginning of all things? And this book had been so casually given! These people knew nothing of me. They paid my father to sing in their church. I had only quietly observed their Sunday school lessons. I had kept most of my thoughts to myself as I listened to the Sunday school teacher talk on about our story for the day.
Enraptured, I read about God’s orderly creation of all things. How sensible, I thought. Of course, first there must be light, so God could see what He was doing. To gather the darkness aside, so that the light would have room was eminently practical. After this God gathered together all the water, which was apparently everywhere, covering everything, and He made a space for the “firmament.” The firmament was the sky, but such an excellent word. Very like “filament,” I thought, as I looked up at the light bulb in the ceiling light.
After this the water had to be scooped up again, this time so the earth would have a place to be. I loved closing my eyes, imagining the water receding, like one of those films running backwards, the water un-spreading, making tiny slurky sounds as it peeled back from the sky, revealing clouds and light, and peeled back from the ground revealing brown dirt and grey rocks. This is exactly how the beginning was, I thought. Just like this.
Being called to dinner would break into my Bible world, and I would have to emerge into the dinginess of my real life. Then there would be the quiet eating of our pasta fajole (with black beans), or our pasta with red sauce. Soon I would be back with my book, hidden in my room, under the covers.
Every now and then, when I had read a particularly spicy passage, I would let my father know, “I’m reading that Bible, Daddy.”
That’s fine, he would say, absent-mindedly patting my head, reading his own books. I was pretty sure my dad had no idea what was in here.
I remember, once, looking up from my Bible, and watching my father writing on his yellow lined pad. My dad and I were doing our quiet things together, in companionable silence. “I’m reading Genesis,” I said, “It’s got some interesting things in it.”
Oh yes, my father replied, I’m sure it does,
I knew my dad would press down hard as he wrote, leaving a deep indentation in the paper. As I listened, his pencil made a quiet sibilance as it moved across the page. It was early morning for us, and sunlight glowed on his black hair, making the white of his shirt almost brilliant. Tiny motes swirled in the beam as the sun fell on his yellow pad, and his coffee cup, and the libretto he was glancing over, at regular intervals. Let there be light, I thought.
My father was making something too, just like God, forming something as he wrote, creating what had never been before.
Steam rose up from his coffee, turning slowly, making curls of mist in the sun. “Vacca…” My father said, then pursed his lips. He stopped, his eyes on the yellow pad, looking but not seeing. His gaze was far away as he sat and thought, and as I watched him. “…altalena… porta rugginoso…”
My father was singing to himself, very softly, a whisper. He followed the cadence of the recitative, the part in an opera where the story is being told. “Yes,” he said to himself. “Like a cow, swinging on a rusty gate,” and laughed. He was translating an opera for his friends. They would sing the arias and recitatives at Chez Vito’s for their guests as they ate their dinners.
Then he looked up at me, a halo of sun shining all around him as he smiled. His pencil had become blunt with its journeying across the pad. It was time for me to get the paring knife from our kitchen drawer. I handed it to my father with a sense of anticipation; this was a favorite activity we shared.
He placed the paring blade just below the tip of the pencil’s lead. With a quick snick, a paper-thin shaving of wood floated to the table, and then another as a fine dust of lead appeared on the blade. There was a warm earthy smell of sawdust, as four sharp corners appeared. They almost, but did not quite, meet in a point.
I watched my father’s hands, sensitive to the shape and movement of the knife, the stillness of the pencil. His expert flicks and wicks made the pencil’s point a beautiful sculpture. At school we used a pencil sharpener. But at home my father whittled his pencil just so, and I was his helper.
He set the paring knife down and lifted the pencil close to his eyes, examining its point in the sunlight… He was singing to himself again; his pencil had been approved, and was set to work once more, moving easily in my father’s hand as he thought and wrote.
This is how it must have been, I thought, God with light all around Him, singing to Himself, as He created.