Opening Words from Sun. February 18 by Joan Walker

Good Morning. My name is Joan Walker. I’m a long time member of the Ethical Society where I met and married today’s speaker.

Early in our relationship, Claude and I talked about favorite authors. We connected over our appreciation of Kurt Vonnegut and Jane Wagner. I’d like to relate how these two authors imagined interactions between humans and aliens.

In his book, “Breakfast of Champions”, Vonnegut described an alien named Zog who lived on the planet Margo. Zog was sent to Earth to deliver two highly important messages: how to cure cancer and how to bring peace to the world.

Now, an interesting thing about Zog and other creatures from Margo was that they didn’t communicate like we do. They communicated by farting and tap dancing.

So Zog touched down in Connecticut one night. Soon after he landed, he encountered a human and began “communicating”. Unfortunately, the terrified human beat Zog to death with his golf club. Just another example in a long line of dismal failures to communicate.

Another favorite description of human/alien communication was in Jane Wagner’s work, “Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe.” It became a Broadway hit performed by Lily Tomlin. Lily played Trudy, a thoughtful, mentally complicated bag lady, who was tasked with explaining modern American life to space aliens.

Trudy was not always a bag lady. In fact, she used to be a creative consultant for big companies. She prided herself with coming up with the color scheme for Howard Johnsons. As she put it, “At the time, nobody was using orange and aqua in the same room with fried clams.

As the play opened, Trudy was waiting to meet up with the aliens. “I could kick myself,” she says. “I told them to meet me at lunchtime at the corner of WALK and DON’T WALK. … But do they even know what lunch means? I doubt it.

In spite of this miscommunication, the aliens arrived, well prepared to collect data and observations. Trudy went to great lengths to explain human complexity. At one point, she took them to a violin concert. When she mentioned getting goosebumps. They were very curious about these goose bumps and wanted to know, “Did they came from the soul? The brain? From geese?”

In their long discussions about life and humans, Trudy and the aliens ultimately agreed on the following:

All this searching and data collecting about the secrets of life, and we really don’t know is what it all means.

No matter how much we know, there’s more to knowing than we could ever know.

They concluded, “Maybe we should stop trying to figure out the meaning of life and just sit back and enjoy the mystery of life.”

As they walked down the street, Trudy and the aliens stopped to look at the stars. As usual, Trudy was in awe. As she explained it, “I felt even deeper in awe at this capacity we have to be in awe. Then I became even more awestruck at the thought that I was in some minimal way, a part of that which I was in awe about. This feeling went on and on and on. My space chums had a word for it … awe infinitum.”

Because at the point you can comprehend how incomprehensible it all is, you are closer to understanding it all than at any other time, and you’re just as smart as you need to be.

Trudy went on to say, “I like to think of those aliens out there in the dark watching us. Sometimes we’ll do something and they’ll laugh. Sometimes we’ll doing something and they will cry.

But maybe one day, we’ll do something so magnificent everyone in the universe will get goose bumps.”

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.