Kira asked me to tuck her in last night--as the parent of choice on nights when her room is a mess, I get to do that a lot--and we got talking. Somehow dinosaurs came up, and I pointed out there was more time between when the Stegosaurus and the Tyrannosaurus Rex (about 90 million years) than there was between the Tyrannosaurus and us (about 70 million years).
"I thought all the dinosaurs lived at the same time," Kira said.
"That's the way we usually think about it," I said, "but there were actually different dinosaurs who lived at different times. Some died out a long time before the last dinosaurs became extinct."
I watched her face light up with discovery. "Oh, right. Because all the stegosauruses got eaten," she said.
"Maybe," I said. "Or their environment changed. Or there were new diseases. Or something. And then a long long long time later, Tyrannosaurs evolved."
"Wait," said Kira, and I could see she was thinking hard about something. "If dinosaurs were dying for millions of years before humans, what about Adam and Eve? How does that work?"
And I have to tell you, I was so excited to see her really discovering a question people have been playing with for the past century and a half: a question she's heard before, but never quite noticed like last night. These are the kind of moments the ritual of regular parent-child conversations earn in my view: by talking to her about all kind of things, I get the chance sometimes to see and be a part of how she shapes her view of reality.
"I don't know exactly how those two stories fit together," I said. "What do you think?"
Kira started off with something she'd almost certainly heard before. But it still seemed to carry a new weight of possibility with her. "A day of creation doesn't have to be just one day," she said. "Those 'days' might have lasted for millions of years."
"That's a good idea," I said. But I didn't want her to get the idea that one decent idea is where your searching should stop. "Or what about this: what if Eden was sort of like in a different dimension. And Adam and Eve left that version of reality and came into this one. Sort of like there are portals between realms in Once Upon a Time."
Kira got excited. "Or like in The Wizard of Oz. Or maybe Eden was just part of earth, but after they left, it got taken somewhere. Like maybe Heavenly Father took it up to heaven."
"Here's an idea," I said. "We think of things changing in the future. But what if for Heavenly Father, they can also change in the past? Maybe when Adam and Eve left Eden, it didn't only change the way the world would look later, it also changed the way the world looked before."
"Or what if," said Kira, looking out into the air, almost like she could make herself see it, "What if Eden was before the rest of the world, and when Adam and Eve walked out of the garden--what seemed like a few seconds to them was millions of years for the world all around them. And it evolved in the time between when they left there and when they got here."
And I felt like I could almost see it, too. A sudden rush of the world unfolding itself, eons of violent creation released as the dam on time and death is broken. With each footstep, the landscape is changed. Whole species of flora and fauna appear and vanish in each blink of the eye while somewhere beyond continents groan and shift.
A child showed me this. My daughter: whose years sometimes seem to pass as if in moments before my own eyes.
I realize, of course, that numerous authorities in religion and science alike would not find my daughter's versions of Eden and Earth terribly compelling. Some rationalists would be bemused by my desire to keep alive a story which they no longer view as useful as an explanatory model for anything. Some religious figures would be disappointed by my disinterest in offering my daughter a single fixed point of doctrinal truth on a contentious theological question.
But those people don't get to tuck her in at night. And so I'm going to stick them on a shelf in the back of my brain and take time to savor some mysteries with a girl who has a bit of God in her.