I loved the dirt.
I loved pushing my fingers deep into the cold damp earth: there was something about it that made me feel alive. I loved how I could put a seed into the dark cold mass of earth and within a short time, life appeared: green and tender life that was beautiful, nourishing and functional as well. From the large trees I could make planks with which to build a house, a table, chairs, utensils, and many other things. And when I cut a plant down, or a tree was felled, it would come back eventually. Maybe not the same plant, but one just like it. Life continues. Life perpetuates itself, and it is wonderful. All of this life somehow comes from the dark, cold dirt. I may not understand how it works, but I loved it nonetheless.
Mother had always told us, father as well, that we were not to eat anything but what we found growing from the dirt. We could eat plants, fruits, and those things growing under the dirt, but we were not to eat the animals that tread on the dirt. Somehow they were like us.
Father told me of the time long ago when He brought the animals to father to name them. He said he thought when he named each animal they became companions, and I think he was right. They were companions, they were friends, and he found them easy to love, but it was a love I never felt, at least not in the same way I loved the dirt. What I mean is that the dirt produces life from on-going cycle of life; the plant giving life without ever giving up life. But the animals often had to give their life before we could receive any benefit. It wasn’t that we killed them very often, and in fact I never did, but when my parents or my brother had to take their life I never understood it.
I mean, I knew He told us at the appointed times we needed to kill an animal, but the sound of killing, the sight of blood, and the smells coming from the inside parts that had spilled out onto the dirt always disgusted me. When we were young, mom and dad did this themselves, but as we got older they asked my brother and me to kill the animals at the appointed time. They said since He had provided clothes from a dead animal to replace the leafy ones they made at first, we had to continue to kill, but I refused. I knew animal clothing lasted longer than clothes from plants, but I still didn’t like the feel of dead animals touching my skin, or the way the ground became red, or that the red earth wouldn’t produce beautiful green plants: I didn’t like any of it.
Since I wouldn’t kill, I felt like an outcast most of the time, but especially at the appointed time. Mom, dad, and brother would kill an animal and take it to the place, but I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t do it. I loved the plants, I loved the dirt, and I loved the life that sprang from both. So instead of killing an animal, I took the fruit of the earth to the place. It made sense to me, instead of killing, why would I not take the fruit of a living plant? Why would I not give to Him what I loved the most?
But my plants were never accepted. Every time I took my plants to Him as a gift I always walked away feeling empty. It’s not that I didn’t feel confident in the gifts, but afterward I felt inadequate. It seemed that somehow I had missed out on something the others knew and I was on the outside looking in. My brother, on the other hand, always seemed to become more at ease after he killed an animal. Why was I not rewarded this way as well?
I hated that he killed and I hated that he was rewarded for it, but most of all I hated that I hated it. Brimming over with such hatred the last few times I went to the place nearly pushed me over the edge of control, in fact the last time I went, it did.
My final day with my family was a day after we took our gifts to the place. I went, as usual, bearing my choicest plants, and they with their dead carcass. I walked alone behind them on the long path for some time before noticing something I hadn’t seen before: a small trail of blood soiling the dirt. At first I tried to ignore it, but each step forward drew my eyes downward to the crimson earth. The life giving dirt I loved so much was now damp with the blood of death.
As we drew closer to the place the blood’s faint aroma grew stronger encapsulating my senses. I found my anger rising, nearly reaching a crescendo as I broke into the open area near the place where my brother, mother, and father huddled around their dead animal parts. I silently walked past them and laid my plants down as they looked at me with frowns of disapproval. I stared for a moment before turning and walking back to my fields without a word. The walk was not long, but retracing the path speckled with drops of blood seemed to slow time. The dirt cried out from under the trail of defiling blood. My anger turned to frustration and then sadness as I continued past our little hut and to the furthest field I knew. I had no desire to see my family and needed to be alone with my thoughts so I stayed there, lost in thought. It was deep into the night before I finally fell asleep.
When I woke the next morning the sweet aroma of fresh flowers and the soothing sounds of a gentle wind moving through the stalks of grain and the leafy branches of nearby trees greeted me. That sacred moment of peace and solitude did not last long as the sound of distant bleating sheep took my thoughts back to the previous day and the defiled dirt. With each sheep sound a fresh wave of anger washed over me until finally a few sheep gently nudged their way through the nearby grain and invaded the place where I lay. They nuzzled me gently for a moment before I got up and walked away. If He didn’t want my gift, then so be it: he would get no gift from me. But if He wanted me to kill this gentle animal, well that was something I wouldn’t do. Let Him kill his own sheep. Let Him see how it feels!
It was then I knew I couldn’t stay home any longer: I had to leave. The frequent gifting ceremony had always left me unsettled, but lately it produced anger and the beginning pangs of a growing rage. It was this that drove me, (oh, how I now wish it wasn’t so!) to return to where I knew my family would be and finally confront them and settle the issue once and for all.
I hadn’t walked far before encountering my brother who said he was out looking for me because he knew I had been upset the night before. He said many things trying to comfort me and convince me I needed to stop bringing fruits and leaves to the place. He told me I should just take an animal like the rest of the family always had done. But with each word of his kind, yet condescending plea, my anger grew. Through clenched teeth and trying to hold back my inner turmoil, I told him to show me how to do it, intending to make a point of how gruesome killing was. I grabbed him by the arm and led him to the nearby sheep and shoved him towards the pack. He stumbled and fell in the midst of the quickly scattering animals. Slowly standing, he pulled his knife out of his tunic and turned toward me. I picked up a rock. He looked me in the eye and with a tear rolling down his cheek he placed his hand on the head of the closest sheep and lowered his knife, placing it just under its neck. My grip loosened for a moment and I nearly dropped the rock. But when he, describing how to cut the animal’s throat, looked at the sheep and the trembling sheep returned his glance with big innocent eyes, my grip once again tightened; I could take it no more. “NO!” I screamed, and lunged for him.
I think I only meant to knock the knife from his hand and to scare him, but when I saw his hand prepared to kill, I felt an overwhelming sense of rejection. As I lunged toward him I recalled the trail of blood on the path to the place, I smelled its death, and I broke. I raised the rock and brought it down on the head of my brother who was bent over the head of an innocent sheep. He immediately crumpled to the ground and the sheep ran into the nearby thicket. The wind stilled and the leaves stopped moving. I looked down and saw a large opening in the back my brother’s head revealing things that were not meant to be seen. A large stream of blood flowed over the edges of the opening in his head and stained the dirt a crimson red. I dropped to my knees futilely trying to revive him, quickly realizing I could be of no help. I began to cry.
I don’t know how long I stayed crouched over my brother’s lifeless body before I heard His voice echo across the field, “You must leave now.”
“Where will I go,” I asked, wiping away my tears with bloody hands.
Only a single word was spoken; only a single word was needed. “Away,” He said. The silence on either side of the word spoke more to my grieving soul than any word or silence has since.
I looked up to see the plants around my brother’s blood already fading in death. That which once was green was now brown and quickly turning black. His blood continued to seep into the ground spreading death in an ever-widening crimson circle of browning and blackened plants.
“What is happening?” I asked.
“You will never again grow plants. By your hatred, you have condemned the very thing you loved. You must find other work, for the dirt is dead to you now.”
I wanted to plead with Him but deep down I knew it wouldn’t change things. I knew my words would somehow be as disgraceful and repugnant as my act and so I held my tongue. I knew what he said was just, but I also knew it was more than I could bear. It didn’t matter that I was truly sorry for what I had done; sorrow was not enough. Even the balance of my life was not sufficient payment for my crime. There, in the silence following his words I knew I would never hear from him again.
I stood and surveyed the fields, my eyes finally settling in the distance on the place I had once called my home. I knew I could never return, so I turned and without looking back, walked east. I walked through the day and through the night, knowing that the sun was rising and setting but not knowing how many times. Eventually, filled with exhaustion, I fell to the ground and on the dirt I had loved. But the dirt felt different to me now: it was distant and cold; it felt dead. I turned over and curled up into a ball as I cried myself to sleep.
Over the next few months I cut down some trees and built a house in which to live. And over the years people like me who had been rejected by Him found their way to me and eventually we built a city. Some went to the fields to tend animals, some built tools and weapons, and some stayed in the wooden city and wrote songs about our pain. But at the end of each day we all returned to our city of wooden houses and wooden floors that kept us separated from the dirt. Even between the houses we constructed wooden walkways so we didn’t have to step on the dirt more than was necessary. We now live our lives isolated from the dirt we once all held dear.
I am old now, older than all the others, and am barely able to walk on the dirt anymore. Its cold silence haunts me. It has been years since that final day at home and I have often wanted to return. I’ve wanted to tell them I am sorry and I’ve wanted to seek their forgiveness, but I can’t. For each time I think of them I am reminded of what I have done. I am reminded of the crimson earth spreading underneath my dying brother. I am reminded I will never be known as anything but a killer. I am reminded I must bear that label forever; wherever I go. I am reminded of actions and consequences I cannot change.
I don’t know what my mother and father did after I left. I heard rumors and stories, but something in me held me back from pressing the tellers of them. The only image of them I can hold on to is when we were at the place the day before I killed my brother. They looked at me and I, full of hatred, walked away.
I miss them, but I know I can never return. I miss my brother, but he is long gone. Most of all I miss the dirt. I miss its feel, its smell, and the life and joy it brought me in my youth. But it is dead to me now, and I am dead to it.
I loved the dirt.