Monday, 21 July 2014

Pale Blue Dot

Grandson duties the other day required me to coral the darling little monster and herd him into a wire pen filled with death machines, otherwise known as a playground.
The place was deserted apart from a small group of children and their two dogs. I sat my aged bones down on a particularly evilly built bench designed to make you stand up again as quickly as possible. But I'm built of stubborn stuff and continued to sit as the Darling Grandchild ingratiated himself with the dogs and children in the Pit of Fun.
The dogs doggedly put up with his kind, if slightly rough administrations for a few minutes before one skulked over to me with pleading and desperate eyes. Recognising in me a much put upon and kindred spirit I suppose. Soon, despite minding my own business, I was delightfully surrounded by small children and smelly dogs.
"I'm Chloe," said one small girl who had decided entirely without invitation to sit alongside me complete with large dog plonked on her lap, "and I'm eight, and this is Patch," she added, offering me the hot panting dog.
I declined as politely as possible as I like neither hotdogs or hot dogs.
'And this is Lucy, she's four…' 'No I'm not! I'm five,' Lucy interrupted, offended.
'Yeah, she's five,' Chloe agreed with an exaggerated roll of her eyes. I'm sure girls are born grown up. 'It's Suzy here that's four.' The aforementioned little Suzy said nothing, smiling up shyly.
I dutifully smiled back, nodded and looked for an escape. But there was none. The DG had made friends and I was now also friend, like it or not.
So I introduced the DG to them.
'This is my grandson Jamie, who is a little unwell, the poor baby,'
'I'm not a baby, I'm phree.' The DG interrupted, wiping his nose along the length of his arm while looking affronted.
Having been put squarely in my place, I noticed that the eldest of the little group was a quiet young boy who, unlike the others, had said nothing. For a while… Then he piped up with, 'I'm named after a footballer.'
I was then told of his family's desire to name him after a couple of footballers before eventually settling on one Ole Guntar Saltbender (or something like that), so he was called Oliver. Oliver was in charge of the biggest dog, a Labrador, which was currently trying to shake hands with me. Or pleading to be rescued, I'm not sure. He also seemed – Oliver that is, not the dog – to be in charge of the group.
Oliver, aged eleven he announced, proceeded to also inform me he had ADHD. (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) I said I was surprised as he seemed very calm and mature, which was true. He shrugged. I asked if he had any siblings and he told me three, all a good eight to ten years older. That might in my mind account for some of the ADHD, if his elder siblings marginalise him as can sometimes happen. He then announced he went to another, and by implication, much better school than the local one.
'So you are very clever then?'
He shrugged. Oliver it seemed, liked shrugging. 'I like science. I'd like to go to the Moon.'
I was shocked. I would have expected a family that names its children after spoilt footballers would have inculcated their offspring directly into sporting directions. His announcement of being named after a footballer now took on a different complexion to me. Perhaps he wasn't particularly proud of that fact at all.
'Well, if you wanted, you could.' I told him.
He looked askance at me, but I continued.
'No, really, you could. Did you know that a long time ago before you were born we sent a spacecraft to the stars and before it left our Solar System it took a picture of us here on our planet, the Earth? And do you know what that looked like? What we look like? Just a pale blue dot. A small point of light lost amongst billions of stars. Some think we all must go to the Moon and then onward to the stars if we are to survive as the human race.'
I was delighted to see his eyes widen as he took what I had told him, ignoring the babble of chatter from the girls around us.
Then he very solemnly questioned my statement.
'But why do we need to leave to survive?'
'Well, because our little world is probably too small for us. Look what happened to the Dinosaurs!'
'Oh? What?'
'An asteroid hit the Earth and wiped them out.'
His mouth sagged open, eyes wide.
'Have you heard of a man called Carl Sagan?' I asked.
'Well, he was the man who ordered the spacecraft to take this picture. He also helped with its mission. Look him up on Google. If you can find it, read his book called 'The Pale Blue Dot' I have a feeling you'll like it.'
He frowned and I could see him struggling to commit the name to memory.
'Ok, I will.'
And with that, the incessant demands of friends and childhood took over from this surprising conversation with an eleven year old. But as I dragged the delightful and now screaming DG back to his mother and left them to it, he gave me a little wave and a smile.
Perhaps some seed was planted in the mind of that strangely serious little boy thanks to the magic of a small picture taken from millions of miles away in space. I'll never know of course, but one day maybe he will travel to the Moon. Be the 21st Centuries John Glen. And that thought gives me a warm feeling that perhaps an ambition might have been born as a result of our small conversation together. In a chanced meeting in a forgotten corner in an unremarkable playground on a lonely pale blue dot lost in space.

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