Did you see the moon tonight? I noticed it while I was driving home from the next town. Living in a flat, rural area often makes me long for the hills and valleys I knew as a kid. But where I live now, on the Delmarva Peninsula, the sunsets sprawl and sometimes the moon swells beyond what seems possible. Tonight, the moon is full.
I could describe it for you — huge, orange, and tangerine, pregnant with itself, maybe full of cheese. Set against a charcoal sky, it presented itself and the winter-black trees as a theater backdrop — almost comically beautiful.
Did you see it, too?
I pulled off in a small parking area at the edge of a farm field. Even though it’s well below freezing and I hate the cold, I stepped out of my car to take photos of the moon with my phone. I snapped a lot of photos, some zoomed in as far as my iPhone would allow, but the moon is a speck in all of them, so far away I couldn’t capture it to share with you. The moon could be a dust particle catching light from a flash. Still, I was glad to spend time with it in the bitter cold while it shone. Did you see it? Could you hold onto it?
Not wanting to miss it, I got back in my car and drove on, glancing at it when I could, aware of its sweet bobbing along the horizon. I hoped it would still be glowing peach and amber when I got home. I drove past my house on Main Street to a church parking lot a few blocks away. I tried again to take photos of the moon tonight, walking away from my car to get a good shot. A light on a utility pole impeded the process, and I walked farther, to the edge of the graveyard near the back of the church property. I wondered briefly whether the people living in the home behind the church saw me and what they thought of me photographing their property.
Can you see how close it is? Did you see the moon?
I never got a good photo of the moon tonight to share with you. Even if I had, it wouldn’t be the same. I appreciate sunsets in photos but I’d rather be enveloped by them. I would rather the sunset burn my retinas and wrap around the sky so big I feel I am almost — but not quite — nothing. If I had recorded the moon tonight, I could not recreate the experience of it. Could you imagine how it felt to walk through the beams of headlights in the church parking lot, past a utility pole, holding an iPhone, wanting to hold onto something fleeting and delightful? At the very same moment we enjoy beauty, it breaks our hearts. Maybe it wouldn’t be beautiful if it didn’t hurt.
One morning in 2008, I was rushing to leave the house to take my two 1-year-olds to the YMCA. In my hurry, I left the twins unsupervised in the kitchen while I ran upstairs to get something. I heard a crash and then two little voices repeating, “uh oh.”
When I arrived at the scene of the uh-oh, my laptop was on the floor, irreparably broken. Every photo I had of my babies from 10 months to 15 months of age was lost. I tried desperately to find someone to retrieve the photos, driving to two different towns that day to visit computer experts. While I was driving to one of them, my mother called with the news that our family friend Donna had died. She had been sick a long time.
A few months earlier, Donna played “Itsy Bitsy Spider” with my babies, Lucy and Harry. Maybe you can imagine their large eyes fixed on Donna’s warm brown eyes as the toddlers’ fat fingers stumbled their way up the spout. Can you feel the joy and pain watching the scene, knowing Donna would soon die, knowing she had forgotten some of the words, knowing how much they all enjoyed those moments together singing about a determined spider climbing against all odds, no matter the weather?
The same morning she died, before I knew she was gone, I lost my photos of our last moments with her. If I had the photos, I would probably frame them. I would post them on social media. I would know more details about the positions of their bodies, what they all wore. I could show those photos to you, and you could marvel at the cute baby-ness and how sweet the moment must have been. I was devastated to lose Donna and to lose the photos I have of her and my babies, but I remember the moment so clearly because memory is my only record of it.
Photos can’t do everything. They can’t build for you years of night swims in my parents’ humid backyard, a breeze blowing across the dell, tree frogs screaming, a bullfrog calling from the koi pond, my mother and Donna singing folk songs off-key while Donna’s husband and my dad roll their eyes, careful for their wives not to see. You might see Donna’s freckles and big smile in photos, but photos won’t wrap her arm around you and squeeze you tight because she knows how hard it is to be 14 and grounded and in the bad graces of your parents. A photo won’t wink at you, speak to you in French (Donna was a French teacher), or love you even when you’re rotten and riddled with guilt and angst. It won’t sing songs with your babies.
Even if I had a picture, I couldn’t show you the moon tonight. I hope you saw it. I hope you saw something.