Baron, this essay is a submission from one of my students. Although I don’t know what I can say on the topic of “spider monkeys from outer space,” I do think this sufficiently depicts what I intended to communicate to you, RE: the nature of God/faith/belief and their natural intersection with the supernatural — but failed to, during our last phone conversation.
When I was a kid my father told me the thick, webby tree nests that appear in late July were not made by the innocuous fall webworm, but by the clever spidermonkey – a creature not of this world.
Spider monkeys are actually New World monkeys, known for their capacity to be bred successfully in captivity – but to an 8-year-old child in the year 2000 without access to the Internet, they were, by default, imagined to be nightmarish primate-arachnid hybrids. My father said they were aliens, plain and simple. From another planet – maybe another universe.
At not even 10 years of age, I forced myself to come to terms with the fact I was born late enough in humanity’s timeline to observe that we share the universe with creatures from another solar system that could knit terrifying temporary homes, high up in trees, from their bodily excretions.
It’s worth nothing that my father is not a “jokester” who tricked me into believing in all types of nonsense as a child — unless you count instilling in me the notion that people are fundamentally good and that some things are worth more than money as “nonsense.” (And if you do, I guess I can’t really argue with you.)
Even as I grew older and I began to suspect that aliens might not actually be roosting in the trees of my rural hometown, I gently turned away from examining my belief — it felt magical in the way few things do after age 10. I partially credit this incredible feat of mental gymnastics to not having regular access to the internet until I was 21 years old, but mostly to my father’s powerful imagination, which he passed onto me in the midst of a world obviously not fond of those with sizable imaginations.
It wasn’t until I was 19 and trapped in my first romantic entanglement that I would learn that not only was my taste in music apparently “trash,” but that spider monkeys did not exist in North America (outside of zoos and as aliens), at all. I would quickly get over to my first boyfriend’s’ “musical opinions,” – but I don’t think I ever got over the realization that not only were spider monkeys not aliens, but that some people – maybe most people, would rather live in a world without spider monkey aliens than with them.
Now, having been homebound for at least 20 weeks — my imagination feels like its been injected with some type of super-growth hormone. My husband and I regularly pretend we’re decades removed from our current moment. I put on Pavement and we’re in the late ‘00s and I am an angsty, music-obsessed semi-human geek and he’s a top athlete and president of his class. That’s too close to reality for my comfort, though, so we move to the late 1930s and we really think progressive candidate David Wallace might get the presidential ticket. On Friday nights I pretend it’s the 1830s and I’m drinking absinthe like Edgar Allen Poe, and on Saturday mornings my husband makes the kind of heavenly breakfast I don’t think Poe often experienced.
While I was laughed at often and at length over my belief that extraterrestrial life had found a home on earth, I will be forever grateful that I am one of the few who can I say I not only truly believed in aliens, but that, at least for a time, I lived in a world aliens would have wanted to exist in. And, in the midst of these troubling times, I’ve noticed the tree outside my office window has developed a thick, webbed nest with a heart of dead leaves — and, thankfully, it’s sent my imagination spinning.