Sunday, April 19, 2009
Moon Up There
One January morning, in temperatures that now seem as unbelievable, ridiculous, and as distant in time as the reign of the dinosaurs or the divine right of kings, I took the dogs for their first walk of the day. Wearing gear designed for polar exploration, I was comfortable enough to enjoy the modest consolations of winter mornings: the peculiar sound of very cold snow compacting under my feet, like the crushing of Styrofoam; steam rising from the storm drains; the silence of cities at dawn.
But these are all adult flavors of experience, and I wouldn't rush home to tell my son about them. When I saw the moon on the western horizon, however, this had to be communicated. In fact, if I managed to get the sled team inside before the earth advanced a few more degrees in its rotation, I might even be able to show him. Right at the breakfast table, out the kitchen window, like an extra page that had been magically inserted at very end of Goodnight Moon.
While we were faster than the earth's rotation, we weren't as fast as the clouds that quickly descended from the north. By the time Spot and I were seated and looking out the window, the western horizon and the morning moon above it were gone.
"Spot, the moon is out there. Right now it's just hiding behind the clouds." We ate. "Moon up there," Spot said, turning he head and looking out the window, at the fog.
"Not yet; it's behind the clouds, but it's coming. It's there." And sure enough, within moments the clouds had passed, and like a vindicated Galileo before his telescope I pointed out the window at the frosty white globe in the growing light.
"Moon up there!"
In the weeks that passed, we rarely saw the morning moon again. It was either absent on the clear mornings or, for all we knew, hiding behind the clouds on overcast ones. But the moon had obviously not disappeared from the universe, it had not exploded or for some other reason been deleted from his private planetarium. Spot seemed to know this with certainty, and almost every morning would sit with his yogurt or oatmeal in front of him and gesture out the window.
"Moon hiding cloud," even on the clear days.
Now he was telling me what was what, sharing with me what I had taught him. But what had I taught him? The mystery of his assertion sunk in as it was repeated virtually every morning.
Moon hiding cloud. Up there somewhere.
There was room enough in his boxy toddler thought, it occurred to me, for the wildest prophetic vision, and the most sober scientific observation, for the flaming poetry of Elijah as well as the reasoning of Galileo.
Elijah: what Spot is really expressing is not certainty, but expectation; not knowledge, but hope. The Messiah will return someday, and when obscurity is removed we will see the heavens as they really are. Indeed, he will return together with Elijah in a flaming chariot, to "turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers."
Or, Galileo: working the problem through between gulps of porridge, Spot has observed a certain regularity in the phenomena of the celestial spheres, and it is therefore a matter of the highest probability that, based on earlier and repeated direct observation, the appearance of the moon is likely -- though not certain -- to be reoccur most often at night, but occasionally in the morning, just in time for breakfast and shortly before Curious George.
So, still uncertain whether my son was a budding Prophet or a junior Galileo, I leashed up the dogs for the evening walk sometime in late February. As on other frigid nights, we see the steam from the manholes, hear the sharp crunch of cold snow, and now we see the doormen dozing in the doorways. Turning the last corner on the way home, back to my sleeping household, we see -- the dogs and I -- a full moon high in the winter sky.
Whatever Spot may think about the harmony of the celestial spheres, of Galileo, Aristotle, Copernicus, or Elijah, a sublunary truth became clear to me on the moonlit stretch of sidewalk: that now, when I saw the moon, I shared his excitement. I saw the moon through his eyes. Had he not been asleep, I would have told him, taken him to the window, and together looked up. After 40 years of imperfect existence on an irregular globe, this, it seems to me, is what I have been shooting for all along.
Yes, how about that. Moon up there.