We are a cosmically inclined family. My husband has a thing about constellations, two of our children have an intense relationship with the sun (one tans, the other doesn’t, no matter the number of hours invested in lying in the garden) and one has kept us on our toes for years with questions along the lines of “how will we know when the universe stops expanding and starts contracting?” Ehhh … this was not the right time to admit to not being all that informed about this expansion thing. (I got out of this little predicament by suggesting to my precocious child that he go and ask his father. Smart, hey?)
I contribute to this general cosmic interest by having an amazing photo of the Pillars of Creation as my screen saver – and by being open to all kinds of discussions re life on other planets, what happens if you stick your arm into a black hole, will one ever be able to travel so fast one can go backwards in time etc. Every now and then we get stuck in the darker consequences of cosmic discussions. Mr Scientist (the son w the difficult questions) adopts a nonchalant attitude and sit back as he casually comments that some day life on earth as we know it will end.
“An asteroid, perhaps,” he says. “Like a miniature big bang.” (Eyes light up as if he’s looking forward to witnessing this interesting event.)
“Or not,” son nr 1 says. “Maybe we just go on spinning round the sun forever.”
As I’ve mentioned in another post that won’t much help, seeing as the sun will go out in four billion years or so. Mr Scientist kindly reminds us of this fact.
“Well, who cares?” son nr 1 says. “We’ll be dead by then.”
“The end might come much, much sooner,” Mr Scientist intones in his darkest voice.”A gigantic meteorite might be approaching our planet as we speak.”
I think this is where I drop my fork. What, now? And I haven’t even seen my book in print!
“He’s just pulling your leg,” my husband says, taking my hand.
“And even if I’m right, we wouldn’t know,” my dear son says. “The authorities would probably not tell us.”
I sincerely hope not. I believe it would be very disruptive to the last days/weeks/months left to us if we were told it was all going to end at 22:03 the 3rd of September 2012.
“And if it happens, is that it? Life forever extinguished here on Earth?”
My well-informed son smiles, bordering on the patronising. (I forgive him – this time) “Of course not. Some sort of living organism will always survive.” He sits forward, bringing the front legs of the chair down on the floor with a thud. “We’re just one form of life,” he says, “and if we go, something else will fill our place. Something better and more developed.”
“Or not,” I say, finding this a rather mind boggling concept.
“Cockroaches can survive anything,” the youngest member of the family pipes up. “They would probably survive a meteorite as well.”
Mr Scientist gives him an approving nod. “And so can bacteria and viruses.”
Well, that sounds very comforting, doesn’t it? Life will go on in some form or other on this our little planet long after we’re gone. According to my son, these future life forms will develop into something better than us. A modified cockroach seems a safe bet – or a super intelligent virus. Wow… (Or not. I keep on seeing this rather disturbing image of a world populated by a carpet of rustling cockroaches, all of them with bulging heads that contain neon-coloured brains that blink with each transmitted telepathic message.)
“If it happens, it happens,” my husband says, getting up from the table. “And as we’ll all be dead by then, we don’t need to worry too much, do we?”
“There’s no if about it,” Mr Scientist says as he piles the dishes into the dishwasher. “The human species will, at some point in time, become extinct. It’s just a matter of how and when.”
“Nerd,” the eldest son says and shakes his head. He grabs the car keys.
“Where are you going?” I ask
“Things to do and places to see, mum. You know, before we become extinct.” He laughs and leaves the room.
Later that night I start making a list over all those things I want to do and all those places I want to see – just in case.