A couple of weeks ago, there was a dead pigeon at the end of our road. I told Harry not to look and, for a few days, he didn’t. (He’d shout “Dead bird!” as we came round the corner and then hide his eyes.) It’s still there, but it’s just sort of flattened feathers now.
Yesterday, on the way home, Harry said, “So… that bird’s gone to heaven.”
“Well if you believe in heaven,” I started.
“I do!” Harry interrupted.
“I know you do. But I don’t. And you know the pigeon’s still there.”
It wasn’t gory at all so I showed him, pointing out how all that was left was the body, the bird itself had gone.
“It’s like Grandad Nincompoop*…” I started to say. I was going to go on about how a person leaves their body behind, not that Grandad was a pile of flattened feathers at the side of the road, but Harry interrupted me:
“Yes. Grandad Nincompoop turned into something else – an animal or a bird…”
I wondered for a second who’d been telling Harry about reincarnation, but then remembered that when Harry had asked me about heaven, I’d waffled on instead about how when we die we go back into the earth and we all sort of become part of one another. I said “We are all made of stardust” and I even mentioned atoms. (Atoms**!) (I got this information from Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything, incidentally.***)
“That’s true,” I said. “Everyone’s part of everyone else. But it’s not like Grandad would know it. You’re not going to meet a cat one day and it says, ‘Hello. I’m Grandad Nincompoop!'”
Harry thought this was hilarious and started suggesting people who might die and then turn up to introduce themselves as cats.
“And if you died, then a cat would say, ‘Hello. I’m Middy. I read books!'” He thought a bit more. “Or a bird. And it would say, ‘I’m Middy. I write books!'” He laughed. “But birds can’t write books!”
* ‘Grandad Nincompoop’ because he always called the boys nincompoops. But in a nice way.
** I find it odd that my general discourse is probably of a level easily understood by a six-year-old, but whenever I try to actually explain anything to Harry, I soon wander into concepts he hasn’t a hope of grasping. I was telling him about something once and I said, “Does that make sense? Do you see what I mean?” and he paused and said, “I have no idea WHAT you’re talking about!” I don’t know how primary school teachers do it.
*** I was particularly taken with the concept that all of our cells are renewed every seven years, so I am literally an entirely different person than I was seven years ago. I find that fascinating.