My understanding was that it would be sort a of a show-and-tell, but I didn't bring any gadgets, as I didn't wish to overwhelm him. It turns out that I didn't have to do much to overwhelm him...he was in the thrall of things I hadn't even really thought about.
Like, what I was wearing, for example. I dressed very simply, I mean, I didn't wear a robe and sandals or anything crazy just to fit in. Jeans, a sweater, sneakers. I was probably the most generic version of a twenty-first century first world person as I could have been, given what's in my closet and that I hadn't even thought about what to put on. He couldn't get over the sweater--how even and uniform everything was--the weaving and whatnot. I explained that a person didn't do it by hand, a machine had done it thousands of times to make many of the exact sweater in a variety of sizes. I mean, he would've seen intricate clothing and jewelry in his time, but I'm guessing it was just the generic uniformity of it all. Don't ask me, I don't know.
This bit took a long time, I couldn't believe how interested he was. The shoes. Jesus, the shoes. Don't even ask about how blown away he was by a plain old pair of sneakers. He couldn't believe that there was tiny little writing on them (he squinted a lot) and the tread on the bottom knocked him out.
We finally got to what I brought for show-and-tell...pictures. As I said before, I figured a laptop or tablet would be too much, and I was never surer of that after all of the amazement over stitching and rubber shoe soles, for crying out loud. So, with what I thought was clever foresight, I'd gone on the internet (I would later mention the internet...oy) and printed out some pictures, mostly of space. Stuff from Hubble, stuff from Curiosity, etc. Most importantly, I'd printed off a series of pictures of Earth...those really recent ones that are the most high definition that we've ever had. I'd always thought that we in this era, we who have all grown up just taking for granted what the planet on which we live looks like...well, I just think we're so fortunate. Most of humanity's history is filled with people with no such privilege, nor even an idea that anyone would ever have such knowledge. There would have been a few early and terribly flawed terrestrial globes in Paul's time, but were they common? Would he have seen one? So, anyway, I'd brought the pictures.
Oh...my...GOD. Would we ever get to the pictures? Any guesses? Beuller? He was looking at the paper...the PAPER for chrissakes. Again, like the sweater, it was the uniformity and precision of size, the fact that it was glossy on one side. Glossy--he didn't have a word for that. He kept on with his translator trying to figure one out. Glossy. Glossy paper...a fucking miracle. Seriously.
So, the pictures. I showed him Earth. This is Earth. This is where we live. This is where you lived. This is where I live. There is a mountain. There is a storm. That place is covered in ice. That's England, where the language I speak was born, but it wasn't spoken yet in your time...not even in its first forms that would be unrecognizable to me...spoken or written. That is a wall in China. Machines take these pictures from space. We sent them there. There is a machine driving around on Mars (I didn't want to explain SUVs, so I didn't mention that it was the size of a small SUV). People are going to try and go there within the next decade. For the first ones, it will be a one-way ticket. I explained one-way tickets.
I showed him a picture of some rays of light and a speck. I explained that the picture was taken from very far away, and that the speck was something that a famous man called the "pale blue dot" and that the dot was Earth. Paul looked at the photos in silence for a long time.
|The speck is Earth from 3.7 billion miles away, taken |
by Voyager I in 1990, 13 years after it launched.
Planets were too intense. I withdrew to cities. That was intense, too, the citiscapes were hard for him to comprehend, and this one of my feet over Chicago almost made him nauseated.
As I said before, I tried to explain the internet a little, in very simple terms. We have little boxes of varying sizes which are connected, and the boxes give us access to almost all of humanity's collected history and knowledge. I didn't mention that common uses are arguing with strangers and flinging little drawings of birds at little drawings of pigs.
The details of this event are fuzzy for me, but I do know that I wasn't chosen. I won the chance to go, or something. I forget. The forgetting was part of the deal somehow. But I wasn't picked, that's for sure. No one was chosen, so that it wouldn't be some meeting of great minds, or influencers, or whatever. I was just average. To him, my averageness was a wonder, and his translator told me that he said that meeting me was the most wonderous encounter he'd ever had in his life.
Think about that one.
It only occurred to me later that he was so interested in so many things, he never told me about his life...not even his vision. You know, The Big Show on Damascus Boulevard.
But he never brought that up, and we never even spoke of god.