Friday, 29 December 2017

Conversations with a 5 year old - Trains and death

We’re at the train station of a former DDR town with time to spare before our connection arrives. A few steps outside the fence gate stands a black-varnished antique steam locomotive, built in the 1920’s, according to an inbuilt inscription. The last time it moved people from here to there was in the 60s’. It was then retired and placed on a pedestal to remind passers-by of the remarkable strides of technology since the dawning of the industrial revolution. My son likes trains so we naturally gravitate towards this fossil of a not so distant era.

- Dad, is this an old train?
- Yup.
- How old?
- It says here it’s about 100 years old.
I know he gets that. Anything above is just ‘hundreds and hundreds’.
He’s clearly impressed so I press on, “and you want to know something cool? This train can move without electricity. See this door?” I point to the front of the boiler; “You can put wood in there and make a fire. This train also had a lot of water in it and it boiled when you made a fire. Hot steam then came out and made these things move”, I show him the pistons, ”can you see where they are connected?”
- The wheels!
- Yup, they push the wheels and make them go round, so the train moves.
- Cooool. and can it go very, very fast?
- Not very fast. The ICE is much faster. This train is quite old and we don’t use it anymore.
He takes a good look at the train.
- And what will happen to it when it is older?
- Well, it will probably stay here for some years and then it will be gone.
- Why will it be gone?
- Because things don’t stay forever as they are, they change. See these houses? A long time from now they will be gone too, and maybe other new houses will be there.
- Our house too?
- Yup, our house too, but not for a long time.
- And you and mama too?
- Yup, mama and I too.
- And Mina (his sister) and I too?
- Yes, you too, but not for a very long time. Nothing lasts forever but it’s not something to worry about because you will have all the time in the world to play with your friends and laugh and make new cool things and have lots and lots of fun!
- Why?
- Well, you see, everything is made up of these really tiny lego blocks. They're not really lego blocks, but they are very similar. We call them atoms. This train here, touch it, it’s hard right? It’s made up of special lego blocks that are quite hard when put together. They are called metals. Now touch my hand, it’s soft, right? These are a different special type of lego block and you can put many of them together and they make up all living things, like me and you and animals and trees and so on.
- And houses?
- Nope, houses are not alive. They don’t eat and drink, and they don’t do kaka and pipi.
The laughter eventually subsides.
- And you see, what happens with all things when they are very, very old, the lego blocks that make them up are taken apart and something new can be built. So maybe some of the lego blocks that now make up papa or mama or Albert will be used to make a cool new flower or a tree or another person or something else. Like when you take your lego spaceship apart and build something else with the bricks.
- And what happens then?
My partner now picks up the baton,
- Well, in the end we all go back to the stars. That’s where all the lego blocks come from. And that’s pretty cool isn’t it?

And there’s that smile again.