On a Small Planet
The Two Capes
A few weeks ago, my school asked me to give a 10-minute speech to our 400 youngest students, a sort of farewell address before I return to my American homeland.
Ten minutes isn’t very long, but it is roughly 297 times their average attention span, and I didn’t want to bore them. So I asked my class of 12-year-olds: What should I talk about?
Here’s how the conversation went:
Then they sort of yelled indiscriminately for a while, which I suppose was my own fault for riling them up. You might as well feed them sugar right before bedtime.
Seeking greater pliability and innocence, I asked my class of 11-year-olds. This is how that went:
Then they spent the afternoon giggling, for which, once again, I can only blame myself.
After this, I realized what I wanted to talk to them about: them. After all, it’s not just me who finds that this age-group ping-pongs between “charmingly ungovernable” and “utterly feral.” Everybody seems to share that feeling.
The world isn’t quite sure what to do with 11-to-13-year-olds.
Everybody thinks they grew up in the most boring neighborhood on the whole number line. But trust me: you’d rather spend seven eternities in your home than a Saturday night in mine.
I don’t need to describe my home interval; you know it already. Neither terribly close to an integer, nor terribly far from one. No famous constants for miles around. No crossroads, no bustling port, no frontier town: just an anonymous suburb of an unseen city, a faceless stretch on the long gray road that runs from one infinity to the other.
Nothing to do? Understatement. There was nothing to think, nothing to feel, nothing to say. I gathered stories wherever I could, scavenged for tales of distant realms where something, anything, was happening.
Somewhere, a trillion covert sequences spiraled towards pi.
Somewhere, a mirror reflected the negative image of every number I knew.
Somewhere, the integers climbed beyond trillions in an Icarus flight to infinity.
Somewhere, somewhere, somewhere…
Adulthood came without sentiment or fanfare, like the bell at the end of third period. I simply gathered my things and made for the door. I’d like to say that I hugged my parents a half-decent goodbye, but the truth is that I left without a word.
I traveled first to the hub, the nexus, the galactic center around which everything else swirled.
I went to zero.