You know how it is, when you’re a kid: the stories of the unknown are easy for anybody to concoct, since practically everything in the universe is still complete terra incognito to a kid. When I was a little squirt, there were endless options for what could be considered alien, from plain old grownups I couldn’t understand to spies and horror-story monsters, teachers and people who spoke indecipherable languages (you know, like Mathematics), ghosts and clowns. Or any combination thereof. But the best kind of aliens about which to tell tall tales would pretty much have to be extraterrestrials, nearly all of them apparently coming from Mars in the popular lore of my youth, and virtually every one of the Martians being, evidently, a little green man.
We make our gods and monsters in our own image, to a certain extent, even as grownups but most especially as children, so it makes sense that my childhood’s aliens should still have been humanoid, even if from 225 million kilometers away in space, give or take. I suppose that the green skin was mainly to clarify just how different these otherwise similar creatures were from us earthlings, and the littleness perhaps meant to signify their being lesser life forms than the obviously superior terrestrial ones.
But we little life forms known as kids were also savvy enough to make up our tales of Martians and Little Green Men in ways that would generally prove that our own smallness wasn’t so much a marker of inferiority in our race; we could best the invaders (as they always were, in those days) just as much as our elders could, maybe better. And of course we all knew at some point that we could best the human grownups, too. Especially as we grew older and began to realize that, like all of the other sorts of unknown and fearsome creatures that were alien to us, those ghosts and monsters and clowns and teachers, aliens might prove to be different from what we had imagined them to be.
Some might, in fact, turn out to be smarter than us. Be revealed as benign or, to our amazement, even benevolent. Just as we began to understand that not all humans and creatures that resembled humans to the casual observer were intelligent or benevolent or, indeed, quite human at all, we started to realize that each being whose path intersects with our own might prove, on closer observation and interaction, to have unknown depths and nuances, hidden flaws and unimagined strengths and gifts. We all begin as aliens to one another, in a way. It’s in learning to know each other as real and distinct individuals, to see each other with unprejudiced and open-eyed clarity and no preconceived notions of worth, of the good and bad of our hearts, that we can discover connections. Kinship.
I can’t say I think it at all likely that my ancestors were little green men who arrived in a flying saucer from Mars. And I’m not so all-embracing that I’ve given up my sense that there’s something alien and not quite right about most clowns. But I’ve got my own set of strange quirks and characteristics, and since I’d like to think other people will give me the chance to become a good person if I’m not already there, I hope I’m at least smart enough to get to know them as well as I can before assuming that they’re from another planet.