The Catcher in the Yard

I’m standing at the edge of the driveway. Cora has gotten Bea into the Radio Flyer and she’s having a heck of a time rolling her up and down, up and down. People drive way too fast down this street. If I were fifteen years older and bored enough I’d sit out there in a lawn chair with a radar gun and give people the finger. As it is, I keep myself between the babies and the street at all times.

Cora was involved in her regular chatter yesterday when I went to fetch the kids from day care. These days she’s particularly obsessed with her age and the age of others. She told me she’d be five soon and I corrected her.

“No, kid,” I said, “Your birthday was in June. Christmas is in three months and your birthday is six after that. You won’t be five for a long time.”

She said that then she’d be five and after that she’d be as old as GG. This must be the oldest thing ever in her mind. I told her that that, even, would take a while.

She considered this and said, “Dad, will I die?”

I said, “Yes, you will someday.”

Then, she said, “I don’t want to die.”

I’ve been waiting for this moment for a while and I somehow knew that it would happen in the truck. It happened to me in the car. Something profound takes place in a vehicle. The novelization of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension mentions The Three B’s (that’s the Bed, the Bath, and the Bus). It was surmised that epiphanies arrive in the moments before sleep, while bathing, or while travelling. Maybe it’s confirmation bias, but I’ve found this to be true enough.

I told her that it most likely wouldn’t happen for a long time, but everything dies eventually. She digested that for a moment and moved on to her regularly scheduled four-year-old banter.

Today between battles over pennies and empty paper towel rolls (the least valuable things tend to be the most sought after treasures when children are involved) I was able to separate Bea and Cora long enough to watch the new Space X Mars demo. I had previously tried to distract them with the Chipmunks and Chipettes singing “The Boys (and Girls) of Rock and Roll” but it sent Cora into orbit.

“It’s too loud,” she said. I didn’t have it turned up that much. She probably didn’t have the words for “this is awful.” Heartbroken, I moved on.

The girls were immediately entranced with the computer-generated demo of rockets taking off and landing. Cora started asking simple questions, which I fielded, until something happened to me. What is this? Oh, this isn’t new, but it’s been a while. Not years, but months? Hello Hope, nice to see you again.

I hugged them close to me in my father’s blue E-Z chair that rests in my living room as tears coursed down my face. “You can go,” I said. “Do you want to go to Mars?”

“Yes,” Cora said. “I do. I want to go to Mars.”

“Oh, you can, baby. You will.”

The video was over in four minutes and we went outside. The kids fought over the sandbox while I sat in my patio chair and stared at the sky. Space, the final frontier. How many times did I listen to those words as a child and believe, no, know that it was coming? It was the natural progression, right? Maybe I wouldn’t see it but I’d be a stepping stone. Maybe I’d be a historical figure they’d talk about while they bebop across the stars. At least I’d be someone’s grandfather, someone’s dad, and they’d remember.

I don’t have to summarize recent history or current events to tell you my Star Trek dreams have shriveled into Mad Max nightmares. I’m surely guilty of Scientism, but to an agnostic atheist, getting off this planet is the Promised Land. Screw the problems of mortality. We all gotta die sometime, but humans racing among the stars instead of being snuffed out on this cursed orb, that’s immortality.

There was something about seeing the rockets take off and land upright, 1950s serial style, that sent me right over the edge of verklempt. “We’re here,” I thought. “Late, so late, but here we are.”

And we are. We are, and I won’t apologize if this seems naive or too sincere. I spend days, weeks, months in the dark, and I often wonder if this will all go out like a match someday. As Gary Johnson so helpfully pointed out recently, the sun will engulf the earth, and it doesn’t take much to send me straight into nihilism mode. That’s pretty much where I live, so when it sneaks up on me, the angel of “What If,” I will take that shit any day. I will take that over the dirt. I will take that over the void.

When Elon Musk stood there and let me know that maybe I’ll be not part of a stone falling cold through nothing, but a stepping stone in the brook of life, a link in the chain, that maybe I won’t conquer the stars but my children, their children may? Will! They will!

Well, I’ll shed a happy tear over that. It sure as hell can’t hurt.

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