Who could have predicted how far we’d walk? When we first left Africa, who knew we’d make it to Patagonia? Who could have dreamt of Easter Island? And who could have recognized the significance of our choices? Some of us walked left, some walked right, and some stayed put. It mattered.
And who could have predicted what we’d learn? When we were writing the Book of Genesis, we thought we were up to the task. Who knew how pathetically self-centered and small our fantasies were? Who would have guessed that the only thing that revolves around us is a giant desolate rock pockmarked with craters? Who could have imagined that we’d go there millennia later, without anybody’s help—not after death, but before? And who could have predicted that, after learning so much, we’d spend our first minutes in Heaven reading the Book of Genesis to the Earth from 200,000 miles away? It seemed somehow appropriate.
But who didn’t see the war coming? Who could forget that horrible feeling in our guts when we first learned to plow the soil? We knew instantly that there would be many more of us. We knew that we’d fight. We were already fighting, and it would get worse. Even then, we saw the faint outlines of the trenches that would one day divide Europe. We saw the conquistadors in the distance. We knew there’d be ground wars and sea wars, civil wars, proxy wars, and cold wars. We knew there’d be colonies and refugees and mustard gas—that we’d have our sidearms ready for when our main weapons failed.
And who could forget the silly debates we had? We asked each other what we could do about the war—whether it was worth it. Of course it was inevitable. Of course it was worth it. And who could deny that we started to laugh? We all hoped that we’d walked the right way. Most of us hadn’t.
But who could have predicted America? Who can even explain it now? Who even knows what there is to explain? Who could have anticipated all of the nuance that it brought?
When we were shipping Africans to the Americas, who could have predicted that we would free their descendants? Who knew how powerful our shame and empathy would be? Who could have imagined that we’d wrestle with how to treat the descendants of freed slaves? Who knew that we’d lynch them anyway? Who would have guessed that we’d let them vote but make it hard?
And who could have predicted the unwanted breakdancers? When we were digging the tunnels under the East River from Brooklyn to Manhattan, who stopped and thought that the long space between the stations would allow for a longer performance? Who looked at the metal poles that we installed to steady standing passengers and thought about how spectacular it would be to swing from them? Who realized that the rocking of the train would make the act all the more impressive? Who would have thought that nobody would like the breakdancers—that we’d try not to look at them? Who knew that our mouths would stretch into an awkward jaded smile when we accidentally caught their eye?