Moon! Moon!

Welcome aboard...
Welcome Aboard...

They would find me on the windowsill, asleep.

I was probably four or five years old, and sometimes I'd leave my bed in the middle of the night to lie on the windowsill and watch the moon. We were living on 62nd Avenue in Riverdale, Maryland. Our place was half a red brick double block. Bedrooms upstairs. Living room downstairs. Kitchen in the rear, and a back yard with a fruit tree of some sort. I can't recall the fruit…might have been peaches, or pears. Whatever fruit the tree bore, when it fell from the branches to the thick green grass, the bees swarmed around it. I learned quickly not to trot around the back yard barefoot.

My days were the days of any small boy: playing hard, getting dirty, kicking a ball around, and, of course, doing a lot of pretending. Imagination ruled.

On hot summer days, the sidewalk in front of the house became a submarine. Each section of concrete a different compartment: here, the torpedo room, there the conning tower, behind that the engine room. We didn't need a crews quarters or a galley; we had the house for that. The sidewalk submarine was all about the business of imaginary combat. Sunk by a depth charge? No problem…we'd just escape from the murky depths and swim up onto the front lawn, an imaginary tropical island inhabited by cannibals and dinosaurs.

We sometimes pretended to be spacemen, my friends and I. Sticks were our ray guns. A passing dog was the invading alien, and we would point our sticks his way and make zapping noises while Fido trotted by. Once I used a whole box of aluminum foil to make a space suit. I cut the pieces out with Mom's scissors and thought it looked pretty spiffy. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but it got me a swipe across the back of the legs with the dreaded spatula, Mom's favorite tool of discipline. She could flip a pancake and swat a behind that needed a swatting all in one fluid stroke. (I remember that spatula breaking some twenty years later. I was watching TV at our house in Harding, Pennsylvania and heard my mother cry out from the kitchen. I went in and she said, "…Michael, look, the spatula broke!" I did a little jig around the room, and she probably thought I'd lost my mind, but I was thinking of stinging calves and flimsy spacesuits that fell apart when you tried to unfold them).

Yes, imagination ruled the day …but nights were a time of wonder. When I tilted my head up to the sky, I was mesmerized by the tiny points of light sparkling there. The occasional streak of a meteor across the heavens. The changing face of the moon over the course of a month …a sliver, a quarter, a half, then the whole onion, and slowly back the other way until it vanished for a while.

They say when I first started talking, I would point out the window in the evening and cry, "…Moon! Moon!" So it probably surprised no one that I would sleep on that windowsill from time to time after watching my friend the moon for a while. Someone would find me, usually one of my parents, but I think my cousin Bibby may have picked me up once, and they would put me back into bed where I would dream little boy stardust dreams.

I am remembering this …perhaps selectively, but it has been half a century and I feel fortunate to remember any of it… I am remembering this because I am trying to find once again some small bit of that pure joy a child takes in the world around them. To a degree, I still feel that from time to time. To a degree. But like many worn-down folks with more than half-a-hundred years of life on this small rock, I get stuck in the day-to-day and miss the splendor and richness that is all around us. There are also days, to quote one of my characters, when I wake up in the morning, and that disappoints me. True, there aren't many days like that, but there seem to be more of them as I grow older. Anyone who says that isn't so, that they have no such days once they start the downhill side of the journey …well, they are in denial. As we age a tiny bit, life seems to get harder at precisely the time we thought it should be getting easier. We begin to realize with a growing certainty that there were opportunities missed, and fewer ahead. We get so wrapped up in what we didn't accomplish that we often forget we still have a chance to leave a beautiful footprint behind should we so choose.

Let's be honest here. We can't win the fight with universal entropy…that steady dissolving away of everything from jagged mountains, to weathering paint on a mailbox, to a youthful face we see in the mirror at twenty which melts over the decades to show just the barest hint of a youth that once seemed eternal. No, we can't win that one. But that's not what really matters. Thumbing our nose at the inevitable; trying to make this world a better place for the next person in line; that's what counts. Even if it seems pointless at times, because trust me: it's not. The smallest good we do ripples out into the world, and hopefully spawns more of the same in those it touches. That's the footprint I'm talking about.

Forgive me …I took a side road there a moment. Now where was I?

I did say I feel that childlike joy from time to time, didn't I? It's true…I wouldn't lie about such a thing. What brings this out for me can be something as simple as autumn's colors, or the appearance of some exotic-looking bird in my backyard. But most often, it comes when I think about the Universe on a larger scale. That's when I connect again to that small boy watching the moon through his bedroom window in the early 1960's. I know a lot more about the Universe than I did then. I've learned a bit about the nature of the stars, the phases of the moon, what the surface of Mars looks like… and with each new discovery my wonder grows.

And the incomprehensible size of our Universe! I think we try to ignore that. I don't think we really want to consider just how small we are in a Universe so very large. Earlier this year I told a dear friend that sometimes I will lie in my bed, deep in the heart of the night, and when I try to grasp the vastness of our Universe I will feel myself falling. Quite a turn, isn't it, from a little boy brave enough to sleep on a windowsill to a middle-aged man who feels he's falling through his mattress? But it is a sign that perhaps I have not grown completely cold and dead inside, not yet at least.

I won't fit on a windowsill anymore, of course, but perhaps you'll be driving through my neck of the woods one evening and you'll see me standing in my yard, looking up at nothing. Ah, but that's where you'll be wrong. You see, I'll be trying to look at everything, and wondering what secrets are hidden high above in the endless, ever-expanding sky. That great time machine above us, where everything we see is as it was once, not as it is now.

If you see me, pull over. Join me. Tilt your head up and become a young child again, one seeing the night sky for the very first time. Our world here can wait a bit for us while we let the rest of the Universe wash over us. For a little while, we can be children again. And, if you like, we can pick up a few stray sticks and zap a few cars as they drive by. But we can't play at being sailors. I have no sidewalk, so the submarine lies on the sandy bottom of my imagination. But we can still fend off cannibals or hunt the dreaded T-Rex on some imaginary tropical island. We will let our imaginations rule the night. Tomorrow comes soon enough…let it wait, off in the future where it belongs.


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Moon! Moon!...

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