Thursday, August 19, 2010

Childhood's End

Most days I think of the UFO enigma as a captivating mystery to be solved.  Yet, in more vulnerable moments, the possibility of a hostile extraterrestrial presence fills me with dread.  It’s the sort of dread that grips you like a boa constrictor, what I felt in the opening moments of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds when the working class, New Jersey neighborhood is blasted by unearthly lightning.  And later, when the strange, stilted insects marched through the New York countryside, excreting rivers of blood. 

Once or twice I have known such fear.  One time I was lying on a beach by Lake Michigan when a violent storm wrested me from deep sleep.  I grabbed what I could of my possessions and beat a path for my fire-engine red Pontiac Catalina, where I spent one of the most unsettling nights in memory.  Another time I thought I had been kidnapped by an Islamic terrorist.  I had just left the Giza plateau and was trying to get to nearby metro, when suddenly I found myself hurling at breakneck speed down the freeway toward Cairo, unable to communicate with the taxi driver who spoke harshly to me and seemed to glare through the rear-view mirror.  It turned out to be a misunderstanding, a product of the language barrier and an unfortunate projection of the current American nightmare.
As a writer I am interested not only in understanding the UFO mystery, but also plumbing human reactions to events that amaze and frighten us.  The magnificently eerie cloud over Moscow and the calving mother ship over Mexico in the videos below evoke not only a sense of profound amazement, but - in the right mood - make us fall to our knees in prayer.  The prospect of alien invasion, with its Hollywood spectacle of high tech horror, is a Darwinian nightmare of unparalleled proportions.  But what about the sense of loss that would come when the vanity of human superiority is suddenly put to an end?  Arthur C. Clark captured this feeling with the title of his classic novel, Childhood’s End.  In the present scenario, childhood does not end by anointment and wonder.  It ends with rupture and loss.

Perhaps the discovery of a superior alien intelligence would be the next step in a dethronement process that began when Copernicus threw the Earth into orbit around the Sun.  This should not alarm us, for a species that murders its own kind over ideas and resources and destroys its natural habit could use a dose of humility.  Maybe, when our collective childhood ends, we will see each other, not as rivals, but as living souls who share a unique and wondrous planet.

Yet, who does one pray to when God appears in spinning disks manned by black-eyed, spindly-limbed creatures with bulbous heads?  And who will hold our hands as the magnificent ladders we have been erecting for forty thousand years collapse without a sound?

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