“What’s outside of space?” Benjamin asked at dinner last night.
“Nothing’s outside of space,” Zach answered.
“No, what’s space in?”
“Space isn’t in anything. Space is the thing things are in.”
I tried to clarify. “Are you asking what’s outside of the universe?”
“Nothing’s outside of the universe. The universe is everything.” That didn’t sound quite right. “I mean, you can’t get to the edge of the universe because it’s always expanding.” Which begs the question what it’s expanding into, but Zach was nodding agreement so I figured I might be close to right. “The universe expands faster than we could travel to the edge.”
“But, I have an idea. What if you had a ship and everyone was one year younger and one year younger, so that way if the first person who was running the ship died, the next one could take over?” Ben gave a satisfied nod and took a bite of his burrito.
“But, honey, I don’t think we have a space ship that could travel fast enough.”
“No, I mean in the future.” We were now not only far over my head in science, but well beyond my capacity in philosophy, as well.
Zach came to my rescue… sort of: “Let’s stop talking about the universe because then I think about time moving quickly and then I think about death and I don’t want to think about not existing.”
At least this line of thinking was within my purview. Fear of death I get. I can do fear of death. I think every day – multiple times a day – how hideous it is that some day I will cease to exist. As a family member recently said to me about herself: “Every thought I have is six degrees of separation from death.”
But, I’m the parent, and so I’m supposed to put the third-grader at ease about these things. (Also, I’m supposed to reassure him that he will get into college no matter what his elementary school physical education grades are, a conversation that is getting a bit old at this point.) “It’s hard to imagine no longer existing, isn’t it?”
“Yes. But I don’t know what happens after I die.”
We’ve had this conversation many, many times, and I answered as I always do: “Well, different people believe different things. What do you think happens?”
“Well, I hope there’s an underworld because then you still have your memories of your life and who you are.”
“You could go to the Fields of Punishment,” Ben put in.
“I hope I go to the Fields of Punishment, because then you’re solid and have a body that they keep tearing apart.”
I stopped with my burrito halfway to my mouth. “Wait, you’d rather be tortured for eternity than no longer exist?”
“Yeah, of course” he said, looking at me with that duh, Mom expression on his face. “Or maybe I could be a zombie, because then I wouldn’t be dead even though I’d be dead.”
OK, so my third grader’s existential crisis is so intense that he is putting in to either experience eternal pain or join the undead. Right. I’d worry about where the hell he came from if it weren’t for the fact that I have to admit I’d prefer to live in eternal pain than cease consciousness, as well.
Happy birthday, my beautiful eight year old with the golden ringlets and the earnest blue eyes. We got you the Lego Star Wars watch you asked for, perhaps because you want to keep track of every remaining second in your life. If you want, we can return it and see what we can do about a spot on Team Zombie Apocalypse instead.