Year 5, Piece Eleven: 1. Red Red

In the/a beginning. Points on a spectrum. Blood. Tiferet.

Red Red is the first color in the Rainbow Squared cycle. It always means the beginning of a cycle, the beginning of cycles. When Red Red shows up, I pay attention. 

This one came at the beginning of a few other cycles for me. It came on the first day of my menstrual cycle, which is also Red. It came with the new moon, and in particular the new moon in Aries, the first new moon of the astrological year. This new moon like any new moon was also the beginning of a Hebrew month, the month of Iyar. Red Red also came the day after my first vaccine, the start of a new cycle of re-entry back into the world, or back into a world, anyway. 

So maybe this is a time to start over here. To reorient the way I make these pieces, which have taken over nearly every minute of my free time, after the kids go to sleep and before they wake up and sometimes while one is napping. These pieces also consume what I think about in between. Each Rainbow Squared piece is its own little research project, its own little puzzle. And I love it. I love seeing the way the elements show up in my world and figuring out how they fit together. I even like letting myself be driven by creative obsession. I feel intensely motivated. But other things in my life are falling by the wayside, including my own sleep. 

So it is perhaps time to bound my time here. I still don’t know what that means and I certainly didn’t do it this week, but maybe I can start to loosen my grip a little here. Bring this back to something closer to poetry, maybe more like stream of consciousness. I don’t even know if that will make these shorter; it’s actually the editing process that takes the most time. I am in some ways a maximalist: all the colors, all the photos, all the words. I work like a sculptor shaping a bust from a giant slab, rather than a painter building up a canvas mark by mark. But I suppose in this case I am also building the slab, sentence by sentence, frame by frame. And then editing them down again. Expansion. Contraction.

Which brings us back to Red Red. Beginning Beginning. Let’s talk about the beginning of a beginning, then. The Torah begins with Genesis which begins with this sentence: “Bereishit barah elohim et ha’shamayim v’et ha’aretz.” 

The traditional translation is: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” But the Hebrew word for “the” is “ha.” Both “heavens” and “earth” have a “the” before them in the Hebrew. But “beginning” doesn’t have a “the.” The word “Bereishit” then could be translated into something closer to “In a beginning,” not necessarily “the” beginning. It is a story afterall, and perhaps the authors of the Torah were calling it as much.

The beginning is still happening. The beginnings, so many interlocking cycles in perhaps multiple simultaneous streams of time. There is no “the” beginning.

This week I heard the Kabbalistic take on the creation story from Elana June Margolis, in my creative cohort for counting the Omer. I can’t totally reproduce it so I won’t try, but I will take some of the threads and weave it into my narrative here. And maybe even link it back to Red Red and the harmony of the universe that we are experiencing this week with Tiferet. (For more on counting the Omer, see Year 5 Green Green.)

In the beginning, in a beginning, or rather before the beginning, there was Everything. There was also Nothing. Everything was everything. No differentiation, everything a part of everything else. There wasn’t even an “everything else,” just everything. This Everything has since been given a name: Ein Sof, or “(There Is) No End,” “The Endless One.”

Eventually (what is time?) this everything had a longing, a fierce longing to create. In order to create something different from itself, the Everything had to make room. The Everything had to contract. This contraction also has a name: Tzimtzum. The Everything took its divine light and shrunk it infinitesimally. Then it exploded, shattered, divine light breaking into so many particles and waves and the spaces between those particles and waves, expanding again, infinitely. An expansion that is still taking place. A constant becoming.

The Everything is still in the process of differentiating itself into these divine sparks, turning itself into everything around you. Turning itself into you, in every moment. 

Still, the sages say that these divine sparks are scattered, and it is up to us to bring them back together. But what if the sparks aren’t actually separate, and never were? 

What if those sparks, like the light they are, were more like a spectrum? And all of us one flowing mass of particles with varying amounts of space between, all different points on that spectrum?

Humans have given names to the light we can see, called them “colors.” Isaac Newton canonized them as the Visible Spectrum, differentiating and designating bands of wavelengths as Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. But it’s really a continuum.

And even that visible spectrum is just one part of the whole Electromagnetic Spectrum. What we call “color” sits within a tight range of 740-400nm in wavelength, just 300nm when the full electromagnetic spectrum spans infinitely in both directions. There are longer wavelengths before “red,” before infrared, what we experience as heat. There are shorter wavelengths after “violet,” after ultraviolet, what emanates from the sun. And beyond. You’ve probably seen a chart like this, the waves we recognize as radio waves, television waves, cellular waves, internet waves, microwaves, thermal waves, visible light, sunshine, x-rays, gamma rays. All waves and particles pulsing around us, through us.

In this way there is light all around us, all the time, some it visible to us, some of it not. Light and information. So much information and always increasingly more, particles and waves taking up space in the otherwise mostly empty air. More than your eyes can sense. But not as much more than some other animals can sense.  

Some migratory animals, including birds, fish, butterflies, and bees, seem to have a sixth sense that allows them to distinguish north from south. This sense may be a sort of magnetic vision based on a protein found in the retina called cryptochrome. “Crypto” as in secret and “chrome” as in color. This means that north and south actually may look different to these animals. And the electromagnetic waves of human activity might alter how these animals perceive them.

What other colors are we bathing in all the time? If other animals use senses we don’t have to navigate, how could they not sense this giant web of information we’re laying across the earth, across the sky, across the heavens and the earth? And what might it be doing to our own bodies?

The Cloud as we call it is also part of the electromagnetic spectrum. In this way, The Cloud is also a rainbow. Just like everything. Just like you. You are the bird. You are the cloud. You are The Cloud. 

All waves, all particles. Reflecting light, absorbing light, emitting light. Points on a spectrum.

This is Week Three of the Omer: the sephirah of Tiferet. Tiferet is harmony, balance, beauty. The perfection of the cosmos, of the Everything. Tiferet is the boundless love of Chesed (the sephirah of Week One) coming up against the boundaries of Gevurah (the sephirah of Week Two), both shaping each other into the world we see. 

Tiferet is Green, which is Red’s complement. Green is also what Red looks like to some human eyes that we call “colorblind,” including all three of my brothers and what I suspect might be my toddler son. 

Mapping the sephirot to the body, Tiferet is the heart, sitting underneath and between Chesed and Gevurah. The harmony of the universe is the very heart pumping life through it, pumping blood through it. Red blood. Red, red blood. 

Maybe in the beginning, in a beginning, this first contraction of the universe was not unlike a uterine contraction. God’s own uterus squeezing to let the universe flow out, not so much as birth but as blood. God’s menstruation, the destruction that makes future creation possible. 

There is more than one kind of bloodshed though.

Some blood we give and give freely, give cyclically, give as a sign of life.

Some blood is taken. Taken by guns that pierce the boundaries of skin to draw it. Taken by police claiming to make fatal mistakes with Black lives, or shooting children who are following their directions. Taken by crazed men unleashing automatic weapons on masses of people. 

Guns are the ultimate tool of separation.

We are all connected, we are all one. Sure. But our boundaries of flesh keep our lives intact, as brief as they are. 

This cycle of gun violence keeps starting and restarting again and again, shooting after shooting.

This is not the Red Red I wanted to end on here. This is not the Red Red we have asked for.

Please, Everything, Nothing, God: make these cycles of shootings stop.

If only that worked.