That Time Aliens Invaded the Playground
I have an almost photographic memory of my elementary school playground. I have not gone back there in nearly 30 years, but I still remember where each piece of equipment was located. And, unless it has changed, I could find each one without even having to look around to remember.
Not only do I know my way around the playground, but I have the most random and vivid memories of things happening in specific places and on different pieces of equipment. I remember being chased by a bully and he grabbed me by the back of my shirt and swung me around and threw me against a tree. It scraped my knee up pretty bad and I was bleeding quite a bit. A friend of mine saw it happen, and she came over and wanted to stop the bleeding before we went to the teacher. She grabbed a huge leaf off the tree and used it to clean me up and then we walked to the teacher and told her what happened. I remember that tree and where it was in the back corner of the playground. And how you could go behind it and sit, and that was where kids went to read books or play Pogs.
The playground had two merry-go-rounds. The old metal kind. We would work together and get them to spin as fat as we could. We would just run and run and run. Kids would fall down trying to run fast enough to get them spinning. One time, as we were going to the fullest speed we had ever gone, someone pushed the girl who had helped me with my knee while we were on the merry-go-round. She fell and busted her head open. It was not long before they took that merry-go-round out of the playground entirely, leaving only one.
The playground was separated into two areas. There was what we called the flat top. This was just basically a parking lot with no spaces. There were a few basketball hoops, some foursquare and hopscotch spaces, and a short track, probably for doing the 100-meter dash. You could play with balls there or jump rope. And sometimes, if it was wet out but not actually raining and we could still have recess outside, they would let us go out there but forbid us from going on the main playground.
The main playground was where all the slides and swings were. The ground here was covered in that tiny pea gravel that they do not really use so much anymore. At least not for that. Sometimes, we would dig around in the rocks and find tiny beads. These rocks would have tiny holes all the way through them and some of the girls would make necklaces out of them. I would sometimes help collect beads with the girls. It was understood that everything I found belonged to them, though I would always pocket a couple for myself.
One day, one of my friends and I were digging around for beads and we found a bunch of these black rocks that looked, at least to a child’s mind, like lava or coal. We interpreted them as meteorites. We were convinced we had found something that was…well…something.
The more we dug around that spot, the more of these space rocks we found. Eventually, I found a small, flat rock with what appeared to be a fingerprint on it. That was all the proof we needed.
We went back to class, we were in the same class, and immediately went to our teacher and showed her what we had found, our meteorites and the fingerprint, and we told her that we needed to make a presentation. We needed to show everyone what we had found. To this day, I still wonder why she let us do this. And why she let it go on for so long. It felt like an eternity.
So once everyone was in their seats, our teacher told the class that we had a special presentation today. That my friend and I wanted to show the class something really cool that we had found while we were on recess.
My friend started it off. She apparently knew a lot about space, at least for a third grader, because she told them all about meteors and how they sometimes hit the earth. Then I presented the rocks. We passed them around the class so they could all feel a real-life space rock.
Then we showed them the fingerprint.
An alien had come to Earth on the meteor. The fingerprint on the rock was proof. And it all went downhill from there. Kids started asking insulting questions and laughing at our theory. We tried explaining how it all works. We drew diagrams on the chalkboard and showed them what their spaceships looked like. We became experts on extraterrestrials at that moment. And the class just laughed at us. Eventually, the teacher decided to regain control of the class and as we went to sit down, I felt like I was going to cry. We were right. I knew we were right. My friend patted me on the back and said she was sorry for making me get up in front of the class like that.
That was the first time I had ever been so firmly convinced of something. And the only time I have been that zealous about an idea with such little evidence. But, when you are a kid, it does not take a lot of evidence to convince you that something is true. All it takes is something as small as a pebble.
Growing up in the Christian tradition, we were encouraged to have faith like a child. Faith the size of a mustard seed. A popular song when I was growing up centers around the lines
They say that I can move the mountains
And send them falling to the sea
They say that I can walk on water
If I would follow and believe
With faith like a child
A small rock had convinced me that aliens existed and that they had chosen to visit our playground. And no one else believed me. That was the most painful part. I believed something in that moment so firmly that I was willing to face the ridicule of a room full of my peers to prove I was right.
At one point in the Bible, Paul tells the church he is writing to that they are acting like big babies. He tells them,
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:11–12)
I was always told that this meant something along the lines that we are not able to know everything and that we should not try to know everything. If we cannot explain it, then it is simply a mystery, and we should wait in anticipation for the day when God would reveal it all to us fully. We will never know it all in this life, but someday we will.
The irony in that interpretation is that it completely ignores the first part of Paul’s thought here. Because children are convinced they know it all right now. And on the rare occasion that they acknowledge that they are not omniscient, they just assume or hope that they will someday know it all and then no one can ever prove them wrong again.
As I returned to my seat, slightly heartbroken, I knew that someday I would prove them all wrong. Someday they would see the aliens or believe in the aliens and they would come to me and apologize for how they had laughed at me. And I knew that someday I would have even more proof to show them that aliens were real.
I remember going back to that one spot on the playground where we had found our meteorites the first time and looking for more. I never found any more of those cool rocks. I spent years looking for more of them everywhere I went. Well…it felt like years. It was probably just a few days. I never found more. Not anywhere. And I eventually gave up trying to prove that aliens were real.
More important than finding some future knowledge that will prove yourself right and everyone else wrong or that will bring ultimate clarity, Paul’s point is that when he was a child, he would think in childish ways. But now that he is an adult, he sees the world differently. Yes, there are things that we will not ever know or not know until later, but we cannot just stop there. We cannot just stay in our childish mindset.
Eventually, I stopped looking for meteorites and alien fingerprints. In the same way, I eventually stopped just blindly accepting the things I had been told by pastors and church leaders and had to acknowledge that I knew a whole lot less than I claimed. And I had to accept that they knew a whole lot less than I thought they did as well.
This is growing up.
As we get older, we have to come to a place where we stop thinking and acting like children. We have to stop blindly accepting the words of our favorite authors and teachers and media pundits. We have to acknowledge that there are some things we do not know and some things we will never know.
But we cannot just stop there.
We have to do the hard work of figuring out what the truth actually is. We cannot just accept the rantings of an angry man in his truck or a flashy YouTube video. We cannot just accept that God is real, or that they are real in the forms that we have been told that they are. We have to get to a place where we are trying to figure that out for ourselves. As adults, we cannot rely on platitudes and fear-mongering.
As I said, I never did find any more meteorites or alien fingerprints. Yet, the more we learn about our universe, it seems more and more plausible that they are out there. I have only had a couple of miracles in my life, which have not been enough to convince me that God is real. But enough things have happened to leave me unconvinced about their nonexistence.
Maybe I just need to see a few more fingerprints.