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Today's Story by Matthew Bowers

“My parents didn’t believe in God,” he said, “but my dad told me his own stories about how the universe was created.”

The Universe, Halfway

“God didn’t create the universe,” Grandpa said, and he began dancing around his pale blue telescope with a grace that belied his seventy-two years.

I danced with him, the long-cut grass tickling our toes and dampening our feet with morning dew. The sun hovered just beneath the pastel horizon and we leaped and waved our arms like pagans worshiping the dawn stars.

“You don’t believe in God?” I asked, when the moment passed.

“That’s not what I said.”

He looked at me sharply, silver eyebrows burrowed into the thick folds between his gray eyes, and his mouth thinned in annoyance. Our rapid breaths were foggy in the cold air.
“I believe in God,” he continued, “but God didn’t create the universe.”

Mom didn’t like me talking to Grandpa about religion, which is why nothing made me happier than the infrequent weekends I spent on Grandpa’s ranch, watching stars and chasing lizards.

“God did something much greater than create the universe. He allowed the universe to create itself, when he could have stopped it.”

Our dancing and stargazing were done, and since the sun was creeping into the desert sky, Grandpa carefully dismantled the telescope and placed it in its Mylar case. He then slung it across his shoulder to carry back to the house. We walked together, and talked.

“My parents didn’t believe in God,” he said, “but my dad told me his own stories about how the universe was created.”

“Like what?” I asked, eager for tales that would be taboo at home.

“Well, for example, there was a universe before ours, and it as it expanded, time moved forward. Then, after a while, it started shrinking. When it was shrinking, time moved backwards. And in the end, it shrank so small that it turned into a tiny ball and exploded into a new universe: ours.

“The big bang?” I asked. Grandpa nodded.

“But long before that happened, while the universe was still expanding, three great civilizations had a very important meeting.”

I imagined a group of man-like aliens with broad foreheads and large, sloping eyes gathered in an otherworldly hall, like Superman’s cave, communicating telepathically. That is still how I think of it, but Grandpa clarified.

“The civilizations were not what you would think of on Earth. They emerged at the beginning of the universe, billions of years before man, and they evolved for billions of years after man vanished. By the time they met they were just consciousnesses, free to roam the universe at will, with powers beyond our comprehension. They were like God.”

“But they were just aliens, right?” I asked, still stuck on my earlier vignette.

“Yes, that’s right,” Grandpa said, “but they were aliens with as much power as God.”

I tried to get my head around this concept as Grandpa continued.

“At the meeting, the first civilization argued they should use their power to make the universe expand forever, so they would live forever. But the second was scared of an ever expanding universe. It wanted to freeze the universe in place so it would not expand or contract. The third civilization was silent, but the others waited patiently to hear it speak, because it was the oldest.”

Grandpa’s voice had dropped to a whisper. He was a great story-teller and knew he had me on his hook.

“What did it say?” I asked.

“It said that existence without end is existence without meaning.”

He paused for a moment, perhaps for dramatic effect, or perhaps to give me time to sort through what he had said.

“The others thought about this, and they finally decided to let the universe collapse, to let time stop. And because they sacrificed themselves, you and I were given the opportunity to live.”

“Do you think that’s what really happened?” I asked. I wanted to be incredulous, to call out his blasphemy, but to my ten-year old mind it made as much sense as anything else. I was under the spell of grandpa’s gravelly baritone and the dawn stars.

“Who knows?” Grandpa shrugged. “But it makes me happy to think they’re out there now, and that someday, they will do it again.”

That was my last visit to Grandpa’s ranch, and it was the last thing I remember him saying to me. In lots of ways I found his story worked just fine with my faith. Who’s to say Jesus isn’t a metaphor for that third civilization, alone and on the cross, dying so that we might live?

Grandpa was buried at dawn, like he wanted, and as my family stood in a loose semi-circle around his grave we were silhouetted by the early morning’s light. But I didn’t cry, because he wasn’t dead to me. Mom and dad didn’t understand. I tried to explain that there was no reason to cry for Grandpa. As far as I was concerned, he had his whole past ahead of him.


Matthew Bowers is a writer and attorney living in Los Angeles.


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