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Volume 16, Issue 1: Flotsam

Circus Bear

Nathan Wilson

Outside the Bear, known to its friends as the Big Dipper, is misbehaving. He's all wrong, upside down and stretching his tether to the North Star in a new direction.

I stand beneath a very big, very cold, very speckled sky. The stars are out in force, and the last time I really said `hello,' the air was warm. Things were very different then. Orion is way over there now, messing about with who knows what, and the Bear, as I have pointed out, is upside down. I feel like someone who left town when the new family puppy was still squinting at reading lights, and returns—he feels—not so very much later to find a new and monstrous friend in the yard.
I am holding my son, and together we stare at Heaven from his grandparents' gravel driveway. The strangest part is that I believe the Bear hasn't actually gone anywhere. We are the ones careening about, and we do it every night, cold or hot. I cock my head and glance out at the sky to my right. Where would we have been the last time I stared at the sky? Somewhere around. . . and we have to turn back, twist the mountains in my mind. We would probably have to be somewhere in Russia to see the Bear look like I last remember it. But then the Earth sneaks up on my inner ear, and I slip on the ice. I lean as I fall with scurrying feet, hit the car and save my son from a complete drop. He laughs. Gravity ambushes him daily.
Strange things can happen in a story told by an omniscient narrator. Small things happening on the other side of the globe are thrown in simply to add flavor or perspective. Backgrounds and settings get to be a bit overdone. Russians and Frenchmen are particular offenders. And Melville, when he gets to talking about whales. A man could easily set out to tell the tale of a bandit in the Blue Ridge mountains and instead write tome upon tome of the mountains' history, fictitious or real, and finally wrap up with what now, by comparison, seems a mere anecdote. Good writers venture far enough astray in the telling of their stories that the listener learns that there are stories everywhere that are simply being left by the way in pursuit of the main thread.
God is very bad at this. He does not know where to stop. He is worse than the worst of the Russians. Worse even than Hugo's sewers of Paris or Melville's whales. There are more tangents, unimportant details and complete sidetracks than in any other story imaginable. It is the problem of the Truly Omniscient Narrator. A writer with an infinite attention span.
More extras than Spartacus. More actual extras than all the animated orcs in The Lord of the Rings films. And they're all convincing. Not one of them stands around halfheartedly waving a fake sword in the background, wrecking a perfectly good shot of Mel Gibson with a blue face. Every extra is convincing, because every single one has a complete story, a lineage that runs back to the Beginning, crossing thousands of other stories, that cross other stories, and all of them told completely, down to the minutiae, merely to provide background.
But its is worse than this. The setting is more than extravagant. It's ostentatious. A mostly blue sphere spinning through emptiness around an enormous globe of flame. But there must be some background to that spinning, a stage for that dance, and we are back to the Bear and Arcturus, the parasitic bird that picks the Bear's coat clean. We are at Orion. But Orion has a setting as well, nameless ancestors well out of our ken, hidden but complete, providing background. It is like telling the story of human history, with every major epic and conflict included, simply to set the stage for the real thread, the central plot, which is the activities of the small brown ants in the back garden. God does not limit Himself to using human extras. There are whole galaxies as back drops, with only one speaking line. [Enter stage top: sing to shepherds.]
Every species, every tree, every breath, every solar flare, added for effect. This is a story we cannot ever fully read, though we may imitate. We allude. Modern authors diligently follow their central conflict or theme, occasionally gesturing to the right or the left as if to say, "There were six bears of Logres before Mr. Bultitude." Or, "Pity about the Entwives." But always back to the main thread. Dally enough, allude enough, make it feel real. Act like an omniscient narrator. You cannot be one.
There are physicists who believe the world is made of string. There are an infinite number of dimensions, or none. Some say eleven. I suspect that there is just one. It is story, and yes, the world is made of strings. Or, more accurately, threads. This is one great story, one terrific extravaganza. But any one thing can be grabbed and found to be a thread. That thread will lead back, with various twists, all the way to the beginning. There are hundreds of shingles on the house across from ours. But there is one, smaller than average, whose complete story I would love to read. It would take months.
My son can grasp a small version of the central thread. On Christmas, the stars came down and sang to sheep. It was a crucial role. Among all the extras in this world, they were chosen to fill it. And in this world now, there are sheep whose ancestors looked on the heavenly host, heard them sing, and were among the first to know that in all this sprawling setting for a story, the Infinite was flesh and lying in a barn.
There is only One who can tell a story so large. Only Three can read it through.

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