What if Aliens Were Real?
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What if Aliens Were Real?

When I was 22 years old, my best friend and I decided to seek our summertime fortunes wandering the Northern Rockies. We drove my car, which required me to teach my buddy to drive a standard. If anyone has seen any movie where a guy tries to teach someone else how to drive a standard, then you know that the someone else is almost always a girl, and that the driving instruction is almost always a proxy for some kind of covert and soon-to-be overt flirtation. (Go rent Say Anything and watch John Cusack’s character teach his friend to drive) This was not the case, by the way, with Eric and me, and as were both versed in the enactment of pedagogy as a potential flirtation, we dispensed with our discomfort by using lots of obscenities and damn near wrecking the car. Still, whenever, Eric took over the driver’s seat, the car jerked forward like a drunken sailor until it found its groove into third gear on the high ways of Middle America.

It was on this trip that Eric and I began the “What if” game. We had long swatches of open country to cover, and long times in the mountains with a week’s worth of supplies in our backpacks weighing us down as we rounded the inclining switchbacks. When we tired of singing Neil Young songs, we would resort to “what if” scenarios. The ranger at the park headquarters had advised us to make plenty of noise in the woods lest we should startle a grumpy grizzly, and taking the ranger’s warning to heart, we probably sounded downright manic and incongruous in those dark, quiet forests.

“What if,” Eric asked, “Sarah had never met Wade. Do you think you’d still be dating her?”

“Pass,” I said, frowning. “My turn.”

“What if,” I asked, “Reagan had lost to Carter?” I was left of center politically and Eric was more to the right, so if I needed to direct attention away from past heartbreaks, I could count on politics.

Eric smiled at that one. “Not going there,” he said. “And I’m glad I don’t have to.”

More songs then, a setting sun, the air growing cold at 11,000 feet and soon a campfire around which to huddle. Something caught my eye, something bright, probably a shooting star made preternaturally noticeable in the unfiltered mountain air. It shot across the sky like it was alive, and it seemed to actually make landfall at some very distant place.

“What if,” I said, staring into the fire, “That light, that alleged shooting star, wasn’t really a shooting star? What if it were a ship, a space ship, and what if it crashed just over that hill, and what if the whole forest was lit up at a distance from whatever it is that crashed, and what if you and I saw the whole freakin’ thing? What if that happened?”

“I don’t get,” Eric said, more a fan of Depeche Mode than Star Trek.

“Would we go check it out?” I asked. “Would we get on board? Would we, like, go for a ride?”

This was before The X files, before Independence Day, before the cultural rebirth of any real possibility that we might someday board an alien spacecraft. Sure, we’d seen the cute frog-like thing croon about going home in ET, and we’d seen the sweet boy returned to his mother from the musical craft in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but a crashed ship, its intentions unclear, and we’re the first to get there? This was new imaginative ground for Eric and me in 1989.

Eric was an engineer (now a doctor), and gifted with impressive common sense. “Ain’t gonna happen,” he said, tossing a stick into the fire. “No way I’m gettin’ on any ship. I just met Melinda.”

And so I sat there all quiet and conflicted, because I really, really want there to be aliens, and, more, I really, really want them to be nice. I know that Stephen Hawkins recently suggested that aliens probably do exist and that we’d do best to stay the heck out of their way. Here’s a link to the article in the Times of London where he warns us that smart aliens probably won’t think too well of we humans: But then, on Monday evening, I was staring at the Boston.com web page, and I watched a video link of the most extraordinary set of testimonies at the National Press Club in Washington. (Here’s one of the links to the videos. )

Former air force officers, who looked like they were straight from central casting for “former air force officers”, all testifying about recently revealed experiences in 1967 near the nuclear missile silos in Montana. I won’t give the story away because I need someone to watch these videos and comment, but the short version is that each officer reported some bright light hovering over their silos and taking each warhead off-line. Each “hovering craft” had deactivated the missiles.

Hello, The Day the Earthy Stood Still? (And I mean the original, though I had fun in the one with Keanu Reeves also.) Wouldn’t it be totally cool if super-advanced aliens thought of us as a nice but sometimes hot-tempered species, and wouldn’t it be great, if, like some kind of bug-eyed benign parental figures, they came down here and gave all of us a big ol’ fashion time out?

“What if really smart aliens gave us a time out?”  That’s my question. Then, could we get our act together?

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