We were staying in a seacoast town in western Jamaica where my friend, Mike Shea, owns a small villa nestled deep inside an old school smuggler’s cove. Little Bay has tourists now, but back then it was sleepy village on the water, hard to reach except by boat, and not far from the ganja fields on Orange Hill. It was the kind of place where the guy from High Times and his young family could relax in peace and be treated with a little respect.
The U.S. was invading Iraq just then and, even in Jamaica, war news was all over the radio. We were lazing down by the water when I turned off the receiver and leaned back to listen to the lapping sea. My five-year old daughter was wrapped in my arms watching the sun set over the water. I had been smoking ganja openly up on the porch since I got to Little Bay – Yellow was up there now rolling a big spliff – and I knew Dylan would definitely take note. Up to that point she had never seen us smoke anything at home, and she’s a smart girl. The question obviously hung in the air.
I asked her if she liked Jamaica and she brightened with an emphatic “Uh huh.”
Fishing for a complication I didn’t want to catch, I mumbled, “Any questions?”
“What?” Between the wind and water she couldn’t hear me.
I annunciated clearly, ‘Do you have any questions? Is there anything you’ve seen or heard in Jamaica that you have any questions about?””
“Welll,” she stretched the word. “There is this one thing…”
Here it comes, I thought. Here we go…
“Daddy,” she said with a child’s voice, “why do we have war?”
“Yeah. Why do we have war?”
That was not the question I expected.
“Ahh… Good question!” I stalled. “Very good question…” My mind raced. “Very good question indeed…”
I saw no other choice so I took a deep breath and jumped in at the deep end.
“Well, when one group of people try to take something away from another group of people, sometimes they fight a war.”
Horribly inadequate, I thought.
“Sometimes – most times, in fact – wars happen for all the wrong reasons.” I babbled. “Sometimes war is just about money.”
Hopelessly vague! My girl eyes continued to be wide and perplexed…
“War is bad!” I finally decided. “They shouldn’t have war, honey. They’re usually wrong when they do… but sometimes…” I drifted, “I guess there’s really no choice.”
I’m a stupid parent with no eloquence in the eyes of my child!
“Oh,” she said flatly looking out towards the twilight that was now turning the ocean from crystal blue to liquid steel. The first stars came out quickly as we fell into a long silence. Then, more cynical than child-like, she said:
“So. What you think? Is there anybody up there?
Another good question – something so unknowable I could safely give an answer:
“Yes, Dylan,” I said definitively. “Yes, I do.”
“I don’t,” said the little contrarian.
“Wellll,” she stretched that word again, “I do think there’s aliens up there, but I don’t think they’re… Like, I don’t think they have six arms or squishy tentacles or anything.”
“Oh? So you don’t think aliens look like monsters?”
“Yeah. I mean, no!” She sat up. “They sorta look like us.”
“You believe in humanoid aliens,” I suggested. “That means they look like people.”
“Say the word!” I told her for the millionth time.
“Humanoid,” she repeated dutifully.
“That means they look like people.”
“Yeah, but they don’t look exactly like us, she said. “I mean, maybe they have three eyes or a tail…”
“I get it” I got it. “That’s what ‘humanoid’ means. It means they sorta look human – you know, two arms, two legs – but they might have six fingers or a really big head.”
“Yeah,” she laughed musically. “And maybe on some planet far away life evolved different,” she said. “Maybe cats would be in charge!”
“Oh, yeah,” I nodded. “A cat planet? Sure. Or a dog planet.”
“Oh, Yeah,” she giggled in rhyme and rhythm with the chuckling sea.
“Or maybe on some far away planet the comet didn’t hit and the dinosaurs evolved.”
“The dinosaur planet!” I agreed wholeheartedly. “I don’t see why not!”
“But they might not look exactly like our dinosaurs,” she cautioned. “They might have two tails or…”
“Or they might look like a T-Rex,” I added, “but they might three eyes or something.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “A T-Rexoid.”
She giggled and I laughed, and, for the moment, the larger questions were left hanging in the air.