Once upon a time, we didn’t have a clue. Life was confusing – one woke and searched for food and interacted with other people and other species without context. We learned most things the hard way and had no means to classify or communicate the lessons for future reference, so catastrophes happened quite regularly. You never knew which species to be afraid of and which species were afraid of you. If you could find another human who wasn’t jealous of your gatherings or afraid of you, you might fall together for the night in mutual defense or inexplicable attraction.

We went on like this for a long unmarked span of time – generation after generation without any means of sharing information with one another.

Then, some kind of miracle, an idea occurred to someone who had no name for us to remember. That someone made a sound and held up an object, and she kept doing it. We all thought she was crazy. But then one of her children did it too and eventually they didn’t need to hold the object – they could just make the sound and people would know what the sound meant. If we knew any better, we probably would have considered it hereditary insanity.

Generations passed, and the craziness came down through the lineage. Eventually, there were all kinds of sounds and gestures, pictures and marks representing everything in the environment – light, day, night, heavens, earth, sea, sea creatures, birds, land animals, plants, trees, humans. We started using the sounds to classify – sun, cloud, stars, moon, fish, eagles, larks, tigers, rats, man, woman, Joe, Betty. We started figuring it out, and used the crazy sound thing to teach our children.

Running horses and bulls in the Lascaux Caves. Public domain

Generations passed, and some other crazy people started associating sounds to things that weren’t even things you could hold in your hands or point to. Somebody in one of those generations identified the miracle as “God,” the thing that created all the things because all of the things had always been there, they were here before anyone could remember humans being here and something must have created them and since we were naming everything, we should name the creation thing “God” and it was probably responsible for the first miracle that made the crazy person hold up an object and make a sound at the same time.

It was only a clue, but through those generations after generations of trying and evolving, we figured out that this ability to associate sounds and gestures and marks with ideas both concrete and abstract gave us a certain control over our own lives and some dominion over the environment around us. We figured out how to discuss and record math and engineering, science, religion and politics. As we keep using the system, we keep getting clues. And we have some hope that maybe, someday – it might take another miracle – we’ll learn how to love people who are different from us and resolve major conflicts without killing each other. Some kind of miracle, some kind of clue.

San Antonio copywriter gary s. whitford was born to write. He played Scrabble with his mother and grandmother, wrote poetry on his first typewriter and has no choice but to follow the muse when it strikes. He has worked as a weekly newspaper editor, a creative director for a multimedia firm and freelancer for agencies and non-profits in San Antonio. He studies the craft of communicating with words as they flow through ever-evolving technologies. His column, Every Word Counts, appears in the Rivard Report every weekend. For more of gary’s writing, see his personal blog or his company website –Extraordinary Words.

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org