“Grampy, are we alone?” The question caught the young boy’s grand-father off guard since they were the only ones on the trail this early in the morning.
“I don’t see anyone else around, Harrison? Why do you ask?”
“No, Grampy. I mean in the universe. Are we alone?” the boy asked hurriedly, as if the question had been on his mind for a long time.
“That’s a big question for a six-year-old. I’m not sure anyone can answer it. But what made you ask, and why does it matter to you?” The grand-father brushed away the choke berry bush that otherwise would have captured his attention.
“Is it a big question for a six-year-old, Grampy, or for anyone?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Ace. For anyone. Not just boys who are soon to become men,” the grand-father laughed.
“Well, last night I tried to imagine our earth floating in a universe of other planets and stars, and I kept backing away in my mind until I thought I’d come to an end, but I couldn’t see the earth anymore.” The boy began to take deep breaths. “And then I thought eventually I should come to a wall and that behind that wall there might be someone or something. But I couldn’t come to an end.”
“And then what happened, Harrison? What did you see?” A single Cooper’s hawk circled several hundred feet above them.
“I didn’t see anything. Just darkness. I looked in the direction of earth, where I knew there was at least one boy standing with his head up to the sky, but I couldn’t see him. And I thought if there were anyone else out there, he or she couldn’t see me. He wouldn’t know I was looking. And that’s when I started to wonder whether we’re alone.”
Suddenly the grand-father understood that this was not an idle question. In the background the wood ducks’ morning banter reached a crescendo. “Maybe you have to have faith, Harrison. Faith that another little boy is out there wondering the same thing.”
“Faith, Grampy? What is that?”
“It’s a kind of trust or belief. Deep down inside you know something is true even though you have no proof,” the grand-father answered, knowing that words wouldn’t do.
“I think I understand that, Grampy. It’s like knowing that the flowers and the birds will return in the spring… or that mommy and daddy will always love me… or that I’m going to make a difference in the world when really the world is very big and I’m only little.”
“Yes, you are only little,” the grand-father smiled. “But already you’ve made a big difference in my world, and your grand-mother’s and your parents’ and your sister’s and your friends’; I guarantee it.”
“That’s why I wonder, Grampy. If we are alone, I wonder whether anything we do makes a difference.”
Such big questions from so small a boy, the grand-father thought. “I don’t understand, Harrison.”
“Well, if there’s no one else in the universe, then what does it matter what happens here on Earth. No one else is affected. It only matters to us.”
“That might be enough, Harrison. That might be enough,” the sun’s warmth now revealing itself in water vapor steaming off the under-brush and rocky path.
“Still I’d like to know, Grampy. I’d like to have proof.”
“But how would it change anything, Harrison?”
“I guess it would make me feel as though I was part of something very big and special.” How could this boy be only six, his grand-father thought. “Like on a huge stage, with all my classmates, singing in a holiday concert for our parents. Not standing all alone, the lights dimmed, with no one clapping…”
“I don’t know, Harrison. Do you really need an audience and a big stage for something to be special? Isn’t it possible that what really matters is all around you?”
“Oh, I know that, Grampy, but just think. If there were someone else in the universe, they might be so different from us. They’d speak in a whole new language. There’d be so much to talk about, so much to learn. Enough for a lifetime! It would be a miracle if that could happen.” A yellow leaf floated down slowly from the single maple on their right side.
“I think we have enough for a lifetime here, Harrison. We are the miracle. That we exist at all, that anything exists. Look at the trace of last night’s moon floating in the morning sky! Could anything be more miraculous or beautiful!” The grand-father did all he could to restrain his joy at what was taking place between them.
“What do you mean, Grampy?”
“I guess, Harrison, I mean that life is something that either has always been, or somehow appeared out of nothing. In either case, it’s incomprehensible. Even if there were some divine power, the same would be true for him. Or her – I know you’ll correct me, Harrison. Either he’s always been, or somehow appeared out of nothing. Either way, it is beyond explanation and amazing that we are witness to it.”
“No human sense, Grampy. Maybe if there were others for us to talk to, we’d see that it makes perfect sense for something to appear out of nothing. Like a hunch or a new idea or a star. Or an imaginary friend!”
“Have you been talking to Cecilia, Harrison?” A weight began to lift from the conversation.
“You know about her imaginary friend, Grampy?”
“Oh, yes. Cecilia is a lot like her mother.”
“In what way, Grampy? Tell me.”
“We’ll talk about that another time, Harrison. You’ve left me exhausted. I think if there are other creatures in the universe, they better be ready for you!”