I believe in UFOs. Am I crazy?

My daughter saw one and I looked into it, and I found there's something to it!

By Cary Tennis

Published October 10, 2008 10:12AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My daughter saw a UFO while at a camp in Idaho a few summers ago. Her recitation of the event was rather cavalier; she described its dimensions and its behavior and told me there were other people with her that witnessed it. My interest was piqued and I went online to see if there were pictures of the sort of UFO she described. There were! And from there I started reading various books and scrolling through Web sites to see if there was anything to the UFO phenomenon. There is!

I found decorated generals, physicians and other credible sources who admit they've seen UFOs or have helped cover up their existence. When I really started looking at the topic, I found enough credible information to make me less skeptical about the whole thing. In fact, any reasonable person would make the same deduction if they spent the time researching and reading some of the more credible sources on the subject. What I had originally thought was a trailer-park delusion soon took on some true dimensions for me. It didn't take long before I felt outraged at the deception that's been going on for more than five decades.

I am a college-educated woman who lives in a blue colonial house on a hill (though admittedly, crazy people can live just about anywhere). My husband and I are both professionals. I am not given to conspiracy theories on any given day, although I do think the Mob murdered JFK and that Oswald was not a lone gunman. And I suppose I do feel distrust toward our government, but then, I was born in the '60s and have been given ample opportunity to feel that way. Beyond that, however, I'm just a regular girl with no proclivity for delusions, cults, attention-seeking behavior or alien abduction stories. In fact, I've never seen a UFO myself.

I have become vocal about what I see as a grand coverup and the fact that most people come home from work, pop open a bottle of wine and go to sleep. People are given to snickering about UFOs without having given the matter a moment of their time. Isn't that how most people vote? Blindly? Aren't we just a nation of "sheeple" too busy to care about or investigate things we'd prefer to dismiss? Aren't we sort of programmed to laugh about UFOs? I seem to be the only person in my circle of life who has given this matter any thought, and I am sure I am the subject of ridicule. My husband, bless his heart, tries to listen attentively to my ideas, but I know he thinks I'm nuts. Conversely, I think anyone who believes we are the only beings in the universe is nuts -- or just plain ignorant.

Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan -- both of these presidents admitted to seeing UFOs, as have many other credible people, including several astronauts. Are we all just nuts? Should I forever be the woman in my town who's pointed out as "the crazy lady who believes in UFOs"? I've considered writing about this subject myself, maybe even attending a UFO convention or two. I think once someone begins to believe that "we aren't alone," their life begins to change. Think of the implications!

I don't know. I feel like I'm being "outed." What would you say if your mother gave up knitting to study UFOs?

Kind Regards,


Dear Margaret,

Much to my surprise, my father became interested in UFOs in his 50s.

When I visited last year (and I may have mentioned this previously) my younger brother and I were sitting at the kitchen table by the sliding glass door, drinking coffee and looking at the local newspaper, when he tottered out of his bedroom with a stack of books on UFOs. As has been his habit throughout his life, he asked us if we wanted any. Most were paperbacks, some with water damage and mildew, which is a frequent hazard to books in Florida. But the Jung caught my eye.

It was Carl Jung writing in the 1950s about flying saucers. I took the book with me back to San Francisco. I cannot find the book right now, because things are in disarray in the house. And I am hungry. (I have now eaten and still cannot find the book.--ct) But what Jung suggested was that, whether UFOs literally existed or not, it would be natural for sightings of them to occur at a time when the threat of nuclear annihilation hung over the planet. It would be natural, he seemed to think, for us to see them, and it was natural for them to be in the shape of perfection and to hover, mysteriously, and to glide silently.

Since I cannot lay hands on that book now, I will add my own thoughts, which he may or may not have mentioned: that since our fears of annihilation at that time were wrapped up in fear about the atomic bomb, it makes sense that our compensatory visions would take the form of perfected technology, silent and mysterious but strangely reassuring. It would also make sense to me, in a historical sense, that a superior life form, having noticed that we'd exploded our first bomb, would visit us to see how we were getting along.

I am not all that interested in trying to determine whether sightings of UFOs are authentic or not, and whether there has been a coverup. I understand that they represent something beyond what we know; they represent mystery and power and perhaps God and rescue and the answer to all our riddles. Yet whether because of a vast coverup or because of the nature of the phenomenon itself, the evidentiary mystery seems to close in upon itself.

To me it does not matter if they are "real" or not. What matters is what they mean, what we dream of when we think of them, and what our fascination with them at a certain point in our lives might indicate. Are you having, at some level, a battle with your husband about the mystical, about the extent to which reason governs the real? Was this sighting an occasion to bond with your daughter? And what do we dream of when we dream of UFOs? Do we dream of bringing plates of cookies to the aliens? Do we dream of walking up the steps of a humming UFO, shielding our eyes against its blinding light, and bringing a fresh-cooked meal? Do we dream of being tortured by them, or evaporated by their rays? Do we dream of being rescued by a superior intelligence? What does it mean that we long to believe in these things, and that we fight about their reality or unreality? To what extent is our longing to believe in them a displaced religious impulse? To what extent is it, for some, the only acceptable poetry? Also, when I am cranky, I think: To what extent have we been forced, by cultural atrophy, to dine on this paltry, metallic feast?

Today I'm reading Rilke, and I'm reading Jim Shepard, and I'm reading Bob Hickok, and I'm thinking that the secrets of existence are expressed in the language of aesthetics, and the answer to whether we're alone in the universe is found in poetry -- and in music and paintings and prose. I'm thinking that whether UFOs exist or not, the only way to convey the mystery of existence is by creating something aesthetically significant, because only the aesthetically significant has enough complexity, subtlety and nuance to convey what it feels like to be alive.

It's not a literal truth vs. literal fiction thing. It's an aesthetic thing.

I also think about my own psychological motives. I think about my father's drives, his spiritual needs and interests. I see his intellect working sideways toward an occluded understanding braced on all sides against ridicule. I see him working crablike toward a plausibly deniable faith mystical enough to satisfy his need for belief yet plausibly absurd enough to be quickly jettisoned as eccentricity if need be. He studies them guiltily, apologetically, it seems to me, as though the subject were a kind of pornography.

He joined his local chapter of MUFON.

Now, I'm dumb, but I'm not so dumb as to deny that because my father disappeared into a study of UFOs, and because I cannot reach my father on this topic, that I'm a little vexed on the whole subject. But I have strong reactions to flawed intellectual argument as well, and to the poetry and prose of tendentious bumpkins. There is that.

So naturally for me it's about us and what UFOs mean about us. That's my awful flaw, I suppose -- and it's certainly why, like my father, I could never be much of a journalist: I'm always turning inward. I'm turning inward while I'm writing. I'm thinking, here I am writing, why am I writing, isn't this interesting, Look, Daddy, I'm writing! and he's looking up at the skies, searching for UFOs.

I kind of wish I had one of my own. It would be the coolest thing on earth. Think where you could go. Think of how the girls would look at you.

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