Monday, August 03, 2009

Conversations with a Five-Year-Old: Life, the Universe, and Everything

"Why are we here?" he asks from the back seat of the car.

Because this is the road we need to be on to get where we need to go, we say. We are going to the ice cream store, like you asked us to, and this is the road that leads to it.

"No, no no no, no no NO," he says. "Not why are we here, on the road. This has nothing to do with ice cream. Why are we living? Why are we here?" And then before we can even begin to think of an answer, he adds, confidently, "That's a hard question."

It is, we say. Philosophers, we say — philosophers, those are people who study hard questions — and scientists, and writers, and all sorts of people have thought and thought and thought about that question and not found an answer.

Then I think for a minute and I ask him, "Why do you think we are here?"

"Maybe we are here to help animals," he muses. "But then, what are the animals here for?"

"Maybe we are here to help each other," his father and I say, at the same time.

"Maybe," I add, "We're here just to learn as much as we can about the universe."

"I'll go with that one," the child says. "Or maybe the other. Or maybe a different one. Hmm."

As we drive down the road to the ice cream store in silence, I think: I used to wonder, too. But now I think I know. I'm here because this is the road I need to travel on to get where I need to go. I'm here because of you, child. Because of your father, too. I'm here because of you.