I was nine when my father took me out to see the meteor shower. The clock ticked past midnight and my dad shook the edge of my bed to rouse me from sleep. We trotted out into the cool Nebraska air, and I sprung awake when my bare feet hit the cold grass. He set up two lawn chairs, and we curled up in thick blankets waiting for the sky to erupt.
Perhaps it was only a few minutes, but my child-self couldn’t handle the wait, and I started to whine, “Do we have to do this?”
I had barely said the words when the first bright streak appeared. Miles from the nearest town, hours from a city, the stars littered the sky. That first meteor made them all seem frail and forgotten. Seconds later, the next shot overhead and my father explained that they were rocks burning up in our atmosphere.
I asked where they came from and he answered, “They’ve been traveling for millions of miles . . . Millions of millions. What if they came from another planet? What if they were from a world that’s been broken up? What if they came from another star?”
Oh—those two words: “What if?” That moment fanned into flame a small ember of wonder in my child mind. “What if?” has consumed me ever since. That next day we bought a telescope, and I picked up a crisp, new copy of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation.