Four Millenia and
Little has Changed
I try not to dwell on the condition of the world. I am one of many who feel powerless to do anything meaningful to help solve the calamities and coming calamities of our times. But I do occasionally get overwhelmed and have a bad day.
Like the other day when it simply got to be too much.
I was able to go abroad mask-less since I’d been double vaccinated, but I couldn’t help but think about the more than 600,000 people in the country—many who died unnecessarily—who would never enjoy the freedom I’d just regained.
Meanwhile, mass shootings are becoming an almost a daily event as are murders of people of color by those sworn to serve and protect. And don’t forget the “Party of No” whose only purpose is to block Biden’s efforts to put the country back on its feet and to regain power by implementing voting restrictions across the country.
Add to that the increasing cyberattacks on our government, political system and infrastructure, presaging the cyberwars to come.
And, if all that weren’t enough, white supremacists —encouraged by our former Racist-in-Chief—are increasingly crawling out from under their rocks, making one wonder if we have to defeat Jim Crow and Hitler all over again.
That afternoon, my wife and I had headed out to run some errands. One stop was a tile shop where we hoped to buy tile cleaner. For the life of me, I couldn’t muster up any interest in tile cleaners. So I left Linda with the clerk to explore the benefits of the various products. Instead, I wandered into the empty showroom and sat at a coffee table graced with a single book—a massive, true coffee table book—titled "Ceramics in Turkey: The History of Earth and Fire." Its subtitle: "An 8,000-year history of ceramics in Anatolia."
Any other day the book might not have caught my attention. But I was looking for a distraction. So I randomly riffled through its pages, stopping at an early chapter about cuneiform writing. I was puzzled at first by its inclusion in the book until I remembered that clay was the medium for cuneiform —one the world’s first writing systems. It used wedge-shaped indentations made in wet clay tablets with a reed stylus. I was informed that cuneiform was invented by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago, predating Egyptian hieroglyphs.
But what got my attention was a translated example of cuneiform. The claim was that it came from a diary written about 2,500 BC by a woman named Lammasatum:
“It was always I who produced.
I who planted the Earth.
I who gathered the produce of it.
And when we were hungry we ate our fill.
And it was I who wove so we might be clothed.
And then it was cold, and we did not shiver.
And then it was hot, and we did not burn.
It was I who made vessels from the Earth.
And from them we drank.
In the wild country, it was I who toiled.
It was I who gave order to our home.
My nights I gave to my husband.
And to my children, I gave birth.
A gift to society.”
I was moved by the simple eloquence of the passage, by the intimate look it afforded into the life of this woman and her family, by the realization that this has always been the role of women, by the fact I was reading thoughts written 45 centuries ago. This also, it occurred to me, is what life was like before humankind became “smart,” before we layered on often destructive, disruptive technologies and imposed problematic social, political, economic and religious dictates and dogma—and called itcivilization.
This is not to glamorize or romanticize Lammasatum’s life. It was, I’m sure, relatively short and brutish. There was war, genocide, disease, drought and famine. But 4,500 years later, billions on the planet still face war, genocide, disease, drought and famine—and live short and brutish lives. And to that we have added and continue to add enough greenhouse gas to the atmosphere to bring survival of our civilization — at least as we know it — into question.
No, there have never been “good old days.” And it seems likely there will be few “good new days” to come.
Well, at least the tile cleaner works. It might have made Lammasatum’s life a little easier.