My daughter, Emily, was 14 months old when she discovered the microcosm.
It happened one night as she played with a backgammon set on the floor of my office. She’d been playing around with the case each night for a few weeks. The latches fascinated her. Over and over, she’d open and close each one.
You never think about the age when you couldn’t work something as simple as the catch on a leather case, but over the past few weeks, I’d watched Emily’s skill develop. At first she would wrestle with a single latch, twisting and pulling, trying to figure out what it did. Then one night, as she tugged on it, the latch popped open.
From then on, she was experimenting, seeking new and faster ways to pop the latch. It only took her a week before she could open and close the latches on the case with a flick of her fingers. You could see how proud she was of mastering the locks. Emily could amuse herself all night, it seemed, flipping the latches up and then down, over and over.
Then, one night she managed to flip both latches up at the same time and the case fell open.
As backgammon stones tumbled out of the case and onto the carpet, a look of surprise spread over Emily’s face and she began giggling as she turned the case upside down and shook it until all the pieces emptied onto the carpet.
She’d discovered a world within a world and she was loving it.
It took a few minutes, but eventually she spotted the dice cups that had fallen from the case. Leaning way over, Emily stretched out her arms and picked up one of the leather cups. Turning her face sideways, she looked at me and grinned, then shook the cup, laughing at the sound of the dice rattling around inside.
Another world came into view as the dice tumbled across the floor and even though she could find no way to open the dice themselves, she knew there was still more to be found.
Emily had discovered the secret of the microcosm … the truth that bigger worlds contain smaller worlds and still smaller worlds until we lose the ability to open them all. And even then, there are still more locks to open and worlds to discover once we find the tools.
The macrocosm was even easier to discover. She had only to look out the window. She spent a lot of time looking out windows during the winter, walking from room to room and pulling the drapes aside, realizing that our house as simply a bigger box and the outside world was even bigger. Then she found the backyard, our dog, Wendy, a handful of squirrels and the neighborhood cats. Sometimes, it seemed, those bigger boxes held strange and wondrous life forms.
But she also found the fence, and peering through the wire, she discovered our yard was also nestled in a larger container.
Then one day we traveled to Louisiana to visit my parents and Emily and I walked out into the garden with my father. After playing in the fountains and looking at the gazing balls, Emily climbed up the hill to the field behind the house.
Topping the hill, Emily gazed in wonder at the horizon.
No walls, no fences … just world as far as the eye could see … and she began running.