After the bleak post Friday about economic collapse being perhaps inevitable, I got away with the family for three days camping at Lake Rangely in western Maine. That was uplifting and took my mind miles away from our current economic crisis.
Lake Rangely is a huge lake, located in one of the most beautiful parts of Maine, about an hour from where we live. It is near some of the best hiking in the state, and not far from the ski resorts of Sugarloaf and Saddleback. At the park swim beach (which is grass, not sand) the view is simply awesome. You can see numerous mountains in the background, the lake is huge and wide, and there is a sense of serenity that comes from being in such beauty.
There is also something timeless about camping, especially for those of us who still use tents and campfires. The burgers aren’t really any different than the burgers that were eaten 40 years ago, at least not in taste and appearance. The wood posts with campsite numbers seem timeless and universal, as do the well traveled dirt roads around the site. The sounds, the bugs, kids riding bikes, and towels and swim suits on the lines, all part of the camping experience for some time. Then of course is the fire — grilling food, making ‘smores, and smelling the wood burn and watching the plasmic energy from the flames, with sparks shooting out to the sides.
The kids were excited because they were up “later then they’ve ever been,” as we told them. We were going to the beach, time to bring the lanterns. “Are we going swimming,” our three year old asked? No, we’re going to look at the stars. So excited they were by going on a walk in the dark, they didn’t question the idea that looking at the stars could be fun. We treked the short hike to the beach, telling scary stories and got there to find it deserted. We put some towels down and watched the night sky. Early August provides a great meteor shower; once in northern Minnesota I counted upwards of 60 shooting stars over Lake Superior, and once in Vermont my wife and I saw dozens. But it’s a bit late in August, so I hoped we’d at least get a few.
And we did. The kids saw some, the adults saw more. Ryan, our six year old was intrigued by the fact that these were not really stars (he knows stars are far away suns) but big space rocks burning up as they enter our atmosphere. That started the questions — why are there rocks in space, why does the air burn them, what is friction, etc. Ryan, tired from a day of swimming, wanted to go back to the camp site a bit before the rest (my brother in law and his son were there too), so I walked back with him.
Earlier this week he asked me for the truth on the tooth fairy. “What do you think,” I replied. “I think it’s you and mommy sneaking me money.” I asked if he really wanted to know the truth, and he said yes. So I told him, but said he can’t tell his little brother. “I don’t want things flying in my room anyway,” he said, seeming almost relieved. A couple days later he extended that same logic to figuring out that Santa doesn’t exist.
He’s trying to make sense of his world. “Dad, I wished on that shooting star to be a rock star, will I get the wish because I saw the shooting star,” he asked skeptically. “No,” I said, “that’s just a story people came up with because they thought shooting stars were so cool that they must be special. To be a rock star you’ll have to learn a musical instrument, practice, and work hard.”
We got back to the tent, grabbed the toothpaste and some water. “Daddy,” he asked again, “is there a God?” I looked at him and said, “I don’t know.” He seemed surprised by that answer (and I was myself, to some extent.) “But somebody had to make this all,” he said. I nodded. “I think God made all the buildings, and he invented the universe.”
“Is God a he,” I asked. Ryan said “no, a she, right?” I smiled.
“What does it mean to believe something,” I asked?
“I believe you when you tell me something,” he responded. “I think you’re right.” I asked if he knew I was right, or just believed it. “You’re always right, so I know you’re right,” was his response. I suspect he won’t be saying that ten years from now. I then asked if that were true even when I told him about the tooth fairy when he was younger. I finally convinced him that just believing me was not the same as knowing for himself.
“I believe there is a God,” I told him. “I believe God isn’t he or she, or anything like a person, I think God is the spirit of life that makes the universe work, and I think we can feel God when we feel love, or happiness with others. I believe that.”
“But you don’t know it?” No, I said, it’s belief. He asked awhile back why we don’t go to church (ironically after watching the Simpsons go to church). “Don’t you love God or Jesus?” I told him that people had different ideas of God in their heads and tended to fight about whose idea is right. I reminded him of that and said, “if I just believe and don’t know, then I won’t fight about it because I know I might be wrong.”
“What do you think God is,” he asked, “In the Simpsons he’s a giant man with a white beard. Bart said God could be a happy God or a vengeful (he first pronounced it ‘vengitable’) God who gets mad and makes you have wars and breaks stuff.” (Note to self: start teaching him about world religions, despite the genius of the Simpsons, he shouldn’t get all his theology there).
“I think God is just love, and everywhere we feel love. God isn’t a person or anything we can understand.”
“What happens when we die, do we go to the heavens?” (He cutely calls heaven ‘the heavens.’)
“Maybe,” I replied, as we watched the fire, with the others still at the lake. “We probably come back here and live other lives. Who knows, you might be my grandpa later on. ” He responded to that with a look that said “no way!”
“Do we remember our old lives?” I responded by asking if he remembered any other lives. “No,” he said.
I continued, “I think we forget them and then only remember them after we die. I don’t know; but do you really think its possible that you will ever not be?” He was tired now, and the conversation was getting complicated. “I wish I could remember my old lives. Will I remember them in the heavens?”
“I think so, I believe so,” I replied. “But we can talk about all this sometime when we have more time. This is a really interesting world we find ourselves in.” Before I said good night I had to add one more thing, “but this is all belief. I don’t know. None of us know until we die. So it’s important to live while we’re here and try to be good in this world — to have fun and learn stuff!” He smiled and soon fell asleep.