When I was five, my mother, an artist, told me that over time the use of the words “up” and “down” had been reversed through what she called “accumulated acts of lazy thinking”. Consequently, she told me, people had gotten used to seeing the world in a crooked way. With other words: where other people look up into the tangled branches of a tree, to the clouds, an airplane, the sky, my mother had trained herself to look down into the depths of the endless oceans of the universe.
The amazing thing is that the moment you try this, it feels just like the right way to look at things and you will feel like you have never truly seen the sky before. Stretching myself I reach deep down into the world whereas before, when I understood up and down in the usual way, the sky seemed more or less like a painted stage decoration.
Often, on late summer nights my mother, my sister and I would lay down flat on the lawn of our front yard and look down into the stars. The grass of our lawn was long and wavy, different from the short cut golf course front lawns of our neighbors, and woven through with moonflowers that smelled lovely in the warm, damp night air and in their whiteness actually glowed like little stars themselves.
I remember one night when I felt particularly light and small, and grateful to gravity for holding me securely to the surface of my own planet. The stars glittered in the distant depth. My mother giggled when she noticed that my little sister had fallen asleep right there on the lawn, her head nestled onto my mother’s shoulder.
Suddenly it seemed so unlikely to me that in all of the universe expanding before my eyes our planet should be the only one with life on it. I asked my mother, who had been silently holding my hand whether she thought that there was life out there. My voice sounded like a whisper. It was the kind of question to which you don’t really expect an answer.