Nick wanted to talk about outer space today as we drove to Target to buy sheets for his new bed.
“Mommy, what would you look like if you were in outer space?”
“Since I can’t survive in outer space, I would look like an astronaut because I would be wearing a spacesuit.”
He answered quickly. “No, what would you look like without the suit?”
I played it straight, of course. “I would be dead. That’s why I would wear a suit.”
Nick thought a moment and then giggled sheepishly, shrugging like he was about to let me in on a dirty little secret. “But what if you were dead AND in outer space, what would you look like?”
I took a moment to consider, as I eyed him in the rear view mirror. I’m certain he doesn’t know about vacuums and such yet, so what was he getting at? “What are you thinking about, Nick?”
He looked sly. “What will happen to you when you die? Will you go to heaven? You know, in outer space?”
I couldn’t stop myself from feeling irritable. “Who’s been telling you about heaven? Did someone tell you heaven is in outer space??”
“I don’t know,” he answered, back to keeping his secrets.
So we had a conversation. I apparently started out a bit too metaphysical for a four-year-old kid like Nick. His facial expression told me “confused” when I said that, if heaven exists, I don’t believe it’s a place where our bodies go, but only the feelings and thoughts that happen in our brains and join together to make each of us unique. Conventionally known as our souls. He blank-stared at me for a second and then soldiered on.
He still wanted to know about bodies, but I didn’t want to talk about cremation or burial or other such options. I unsuccessfully tried to deflect the chatter to living on mother Earth in the here and now, but then DING DONG, my mother-earth-calling-Carla bell went off and I finally said the right thing. “Nick. Outer space isn’t heaven.”
“Oooh.” Still pensive.
“Our dead bodies don’t go to outer space when we die.”
“Oh!” Spirits getting brighter.
“There are not a bunch of dead bodies floating around in outer space.”
I’m glad Nick shares his thoughts with me. Airing that stuff out is so much better than getting tangled up inside, in a dark secret place in one’s mind, like I remember doing when I was little and like I know Jesse does. Children have beautiful – and frightening – twisted visions of the way things are. I like hearing all about it.