My seven-year-old daughter Sara is getting into planets, and my nine-year-old daughter Luisa was looking at a book about the planets with her. There was lots of astronomical information in the book, including a projection about how long the sun will continue to shine and when it will implode (I think it said approximately 5 billion years).
This made Luisa very nervous and upset about the idea of the sun and earth disappearing. My wife remembered that our son Miles (now 14) was nervous in the same way when we first got the book when he was about five! I remembered my own nervousness about the temporal and spatial dimensions of the universe when I was a kid. Here's a poem I wrote about that kid:
The Seven-Year-Old Atheist
The universe gives me the creeps.
— Willem de Kooning
The seven-year-old atheist knew the sky
of California, in winter even bluer
than in summer. He knew that cats could die,
like grass beneath a stone, and children, too.
With his every breath, the universe
expanded, made him smaller. So he willed
himself to grow, energetically cursed—
"God damn it to hell!"—his puny build.
Neither curse nor prayer could change the speed
of light or turn his energy to mass.
He did not breathe in vain. He did not need
mysterious ways. He lay down on the grass
and dreamed he was a stone that someone kicked.
He would have been surprised at his own trick,
if he had disappeared. Instead, he flew
across the lawn, then landed, woke, and grew.
(The poem was published in Softblow, along with three others.)
I like that poem. It taps straight into a lot of things I think about - although I wouldn't describe myself as an atheist.
I used to call myself a "secular Christian." But there are many times when I dislike that term:
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