I spent a lot of time when I was a kid looking at the sky. For several years after the tornado hit Waco, clouds both thrilled and terrified me. I was fascinated by the infinitely varied shapes they took, the different colors they turned depending on the time of day, the angle of the sun, the season of the year. When the skies darkened and the wind began to blow, I couldn’t help rushing outside and looking for the ominous rotation that would signal a potential funnel cloud.
After Sputnik, there was another reason to fear what might come from the sky. On any day, at any time, the Russians might rain atomic death down on us, with little or no warning. My biggest fear was being separated from my family when that happened. What if I somehow survived the blast, only to find a blasted landscape when I emerged from whatever shelter I had found, with no familiar landmarks, no way to know whether my mother and father and sister had survived or perished, or where they might be if they were still alive.
Then the lights appeared in the sky, and I had to contemplate a third terror. What if aliens from outer space were watching us from their spaceships, waiting to attack? Sure, it was possible that they were benign visitors, here to share with us their advanced technology and their enlightened wisdom; but it was just as likely that they were cold, heartless beings intent on enslaving the human race, making us their pets, or worse. What if they wanted our planet for themselves, and planned on wiping us from the face of the Earth?
I probably watched too many scary science fiction movies and TV shows, and read too many comic books.
When the mysterious lights made their appearance, the neighbors assembled outside and stared. There was a palpable tension in the crowd, each one of my neighbors offering a theory, each theory more terrifying than the last. It was the Russians. It was a secret Air Force experiment. They were aliens from outer space. In truth, there was something thrilling about standing there being scared together, and a certain comfort in our shared anxiety.
When it came to scaring ourselves, we were not alone.