As a boy full of wonder and fear, I used to join my father on the driveway in front of our house with his telescope. On moonless nights, all the lights off in the house and requests put in with friendly neighbors to temporarily suspend the lighting of their own porches and driveways, my father would aim and I would look. He would explain and I would listen; that is until I would again get wrapped up in my imagination and the questions about the cosmos that continually haunted me: Where does the universe end and what is there in the space beyond the ends of the universe?
This was one of my main preoccupations as a 7-year old. One I wasn’t yet ready to share with my father who voluntarily and without the typical pauses one might expect cuing me to affirm that he had my ears, would go on sharing astronomical history, the latest theories of astrophysicists, or the stories of the relationships between mythical Greek characters depicted in the sky. While I thought all that was somewhat interesting, my concerns about the limits of the universe were often all the more consuming. And I was resolute on creating my own answers, partly because I did not want my father to lose face by appearing less than omniscient in front of me.
In my mind, the universe had to end. Everything has to end at some point - that was the obsessive thought of mine in those days. So what was beyond the ends of the universe? I rationalized rudimentarily it could not be more space. I reasoned it had to be something impenetrable. Something lifeless. Something uniform. I figured it had to be concrete.
That was the best I could come up with at the time. I would check the points of my rationale as I lay restlessly trying to sleep in the dimness of my nightlight. Yes, it was inconceivable the universe could go on forever. Yes, there had to be a definite end. And what could be more definite to a suburban kid than concrete? I would imagine speeding space shuttles about to crash into the inevitable, unforgiving wall of concrete. The astronauts would reactively eject from their seats at the last second only to quickly be asphyxiated before floating forever dead in space (I had just seen 2001: A Space Odyssey). Gripped with terror, that is when I would creep to my parents’ room looking for comfort only to find my father with his hands over his lower chest, lying rigidly and staring pensively at the ceiling.
Only now do I realize I was just a kid being raised by a disdainful and proud - but aging - atheist, and we were both scared to all hell of a sudden death with no idea of what would happen to us afterwards.