There you are, on a warm summer afternoon, sitting in the garden.
Suddenly the sun goes behind a cloud… only it’s not a cloud. Rather, it’s a small, powder-blue flying saucer, coming in for a gentle landing on the grass.
The flying saucer’s doors open and out comes an alien. Improbably, the alien introduces itself in flawless, unaccented English and asks if you’d like to fly back to his/her/their/its home with him/her/them/it.
The catch? You can’t ever come back to your earthly home.
This thought experiment is one that my husband and I have discussed on and off over the years. When we were first married, we were unanimous: we’d set off with the alien, no questions asked and no looking back.
The underlying assumption of this fantasy was that we’d be doing it together, boldly going where no man (or woman) had been before. We’re both science fiction fans, and the promise of that adventure in space was deeply alluring.
Then we had a child, and didn’t talk about our space adventure so much. Because, of course, we would say no to the alien while our boy was growing up.
We did the thought experiment again recently, and the consensus was that we probably needed to spend another five years or so here, but that then we’d go, should the alien arrive in the garden. We’re not needed in the strong parental way that we once were. But it still doesn’t feel right to up and leave.
That’s an indication of the way that parenthood changes things – one of the things you learn that putting someone else first has its own rewards.
But, it is just a thought experiment. And the value of those is what they teach us about real life. What this thought experiment digs up is two things. One is easy to see: how a deep love of science fiction and fantasy changes the way people see the world.
The other is less obvious: what science fiction and fantasy do above all is tell us that the world is much bigger than we think it is. And that exploring that world is the biggest adventure we can have. Bringing that back to everyday life: whatever mundane thing is going on right now, there is always something to be learned or explored or reflected on. There is the garden and the sun, right here, but there’s also something bigger to think about.
Main Picture of the night sky in New Zealand: Phil Botha, Unsplash
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