Alternate Beginning to Sinners and the Sea


All the fountains of the great deep burst apart, and the floodgates of the sky broke open.

                                                                                                            -Genesis 7:11                                        

God chooses cowards to be brave, barren women to give birth to prophets, passionate men to be patient, and a man who stutters to command his people through the desert. So it was He chose Noah, a man who couldn’t nail one board to another without hitting his own thumb, to build a great ark.

Blog Noah

Noah was to put all of the species of the land into his ark. And by “his” ark I mean the one that was built by the sons I bore him. The one we are hurtling back and forth on now in a darkness as black as midnight, while fists of rain beat down the space between us. When lightning strikes I see the screaming, gasping faces of the sinners below. Noah has forbidden me to throw a rope to them. I hear their cries as they are strangled by the terrible sea that is falling from the sky.

Even as I’m tempted to disobey Noah, I can’t deny that he’s a good man. If he weren’t, it wouldn’t have been possible for him to live six hundred years without once stealing a few grains from someone else’s stores or coveting another man’s wife. Most people we know—the ones who are now drowning in huge God-hands of water all around us—can’t go more than a few days without stealing, whoring or murdering.

A blind man could see that I’m lucky to be Noah’s wife. Yet I must admit that many moons ago, when he told me about the ark, there were a couple of breaths here or there in which I had the idea that I should get on it without him and pull up the anchor. This is because there are certain things about Noah, such as how important he feels riding around town on a donkey the size of a large goat, and how he talks incessantly to himself but claims he’s talking to God, that made me think he was touched. And I don’t mean by God.

But now that the murderous flood he prophesied is actually upon us, I see that he really was talking to God and he’s not crazy after all. I would rather that he was. How can we let these people drown?

It’s raining like God’s emptying a bucket of water the size of the sky. There’s so much rain that even when lightning flashes I shouldn’t be able to see the rope. Yet I do. It is hard not to think of the people it might save. There is one person in particular who shouldn’t die. I think that not only will I regret it if she does, but that God will too.

Below us beasts howl. The girls are down there with them, in the bowels of the ship. One is the daughter of a man said to be a greater prophet than Noah, and one is more beautiful than all the beautiful things I’ve ever seen put together. I’m afraid they’ll be pecked by any number of beaks or trampled under the hooves I hear crashing from one side of the ark to the other. Smells rise up and just as quickly disappear—vomit, dung, blood.

The wind knocks me down. I start crawling, on my hands and knees, towards the rope. The last layer of pitch hasn’t fully dried yet. This gives me just the tiniest measure of traction. Enough that I’m able to make my way, ever so slowly, towards the rope.

“Wife!” Noah yells at me. “Get below!”

I should obey my husband. This is every wife’s first duty. Has life made me strong enough, or foolish enough—to question him? And if I do, what will he do to me? I’ve borne Noah sons. This is all he needs from me, and I’ve already given it to him.

To read the actual beginning of Sinners and the Sea, click here to go to the Amazon Preview.

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A Little Lump

A couple of weeks ago I listened to a rabbi talk about God from a Kabbalistic perspective. God as Ein Sof. Ein meaning “without,” Sof meaning “limit.” The God that Rabbi Glaser spoke of was one I’ve always wanted and have struggled to believe exists, a God that is love. I’ve heard “God is love” so many times it’s like water off a duck’s back. God manifests in the goodness between people, etc. But at the end of the lecture he said something that stuck with me. He said that there is enough love in the world, but we don’t let it in.

The Monday before I’d gone to the doctor for an annual physical. During the breast exam the doctor had put my hand on my breast. My left hand was behind my head, making me think I must look rather glamorous, and he brought the right one across my body, below my nipple, and moved it in a circular motion. “Do you feel that?” he asked.

a little lump mammograph machine

I assumed he was showing me how to do a breast self exam. “Yes, use a circular motion.”

“Do you feel that little bead there?”

It still didn’t register that something was wrong. Breasts aren’t always perfectly smooth and I’ve always been healthy. “Yes,” I said.

He left the room and came back with a piece of paper titled Diagnostic Breast Imaging Physician Order.

I’ll just get this over with, I thought, I’ll do it without hardly noticing. I’ll be untouched by it.

But I wanted someone to care. I told my friend Inna and she offered to go with me. “No, that’s not necessary,” I said immediately, instinctively. Several other friends offered and I said no to all of them.

The Sunday after listening to the rabbi’s talk I was in yoga lying on my back in Final Savasana and I started thinking of Ein Sof. I splayed my arms out and felt, as the cliché goes, embraced by the light. I lay there after everyone else had said Namaste and put away their mats.

I told Inna I wanted her to come to my appointments. And she did. To the mammogram and the ultrasound and the biopsy. In the waiting room we told dark jokes and drank tea and laughed so hard we scared the other women in white robes and surprised the radiologist who said uncertainly, “It’s good you guys are still in good spirits.”

The day after the biopsy the doctor called to say it was benign, it was nothing. I had a moment of relief followed by thoughts of the women I know whose ordeal with breast lumps didn’t end this easily. My own ordeal is over but it wasn’t nothing. I wasn’t untouched. I’d been given the opportunity to feel some of the limitless goodness in the world. I’m grateful I was able to let it in.