Taking time to see the moon and other miracles

As the full moon rose just after sunset a few weeks ago, I stared at it and wondered: “What if the moon happened only once? What if, in the deep black immenseness of the night sky, this pale beautiful face appeared only once, and this was the night that it happened?”

Half the world would go mad with fear and hide from it.

Half the world would stand outside in the dark and turn their faces upward to gaze into that pale celestial face that no human had ever seen, or would ever see again. They would stand that way all night until it set in the west forever at dawn, tears of joy running down their cheeks from the sheer majesty of it all.

I’d like to think that I would be among that latter half of the planet.

After all, the moon is a masterpiece of wonder and beauty, isn’t it? If it happened only once and you were there to see it, you would rank it among the highest points of your life, wouldn’t you?

“I was there the night the moon happened,” you would say to anyone you met. You would spend the rest of your days describing it in vivid detail to any who might have slept through the night, or who were stuck beneath clouds — or who bowed their heads in fear on the night that the moon happened.

You would gaze up into the sky as you told them of it, your face suffused with joy and wonder to show them how deep was the impact the sight had upon you. You would hold your hands out in front of you to show them the scale of the moon, and though your hands would grow further and further apart with every telling, you wouldn’t be telling a lie — not really — because the wonder would only grow with every dark night that passed since that wondrous luminous night that the moon happened.

Years would go by, and then decades. One by one, those who were alive to see the moon happen would die, and fewer and fewer of them would remain. As they aged, their memories might fail them or become unreliable: some would claim that the light was blinding; others would say, no, it was warm and healing, and as they gazed upon it all their aches and pains were relieved. Others would lie outright, claiming to have seen it though they hadn’t, because they couldn’t bear the realization that they had missed it.

In time — a century or more — there would be none left alive who could claim they saw the moon happen. The moon would pass fully into the realm of myth. Every subsequent human being ever born would gaze into the deep night sky and wonder what it must have been like to be alive during that singular moment of eternal time.

Nothing could ever compare to it, they would know in their hearts. Nothing. It would be a miracle beyond compare if the moon happened only once.

But that is not how it is with the moon.

No, the moon happens nightly — or sometimes daily, because the miracle of the moon is even too spectacular to see in a single night. It takes a full month to see all the faces it has to show us, sometimes bold and broad, and sometimes nothing more than a crisp sliver of light.

And even then, when you think you have seen all that the moon has to show us, there are more miracles it holds in store for us — miracles like eclipses, and ebbing and waning tides.

I thought all this as I stared at the rising full moon last month and wondered: What if the moon happened only once? The moon is a miracle — just one of many miracles that surround us every day, but that are so accessible we judge their common wonder unworthy of our notice.

What if birds happened only once, and you woke one day to the miraculous sound of a trilling wren you had never heard before, and never would again?

What if flowers happened only once, and you woke one day to the miraculous aroma of a lilac bush you had never smelled before, and never would again?

What if written language happened only once, and you woke one day to the miraculous realization that these curious marks on this page cause pictures to form in your brain you had never noticed before, and never would again?

They are miracles, every one — the moon, the birds, the flowers, the words on the page — but we are a species that loses our respect for miracles so generous that they make themselves available to us every day.

Instead, we reserve our greatest awe for miracles that happen only once, never to happen again. We revere such miracles beyond all things and judge them greater than any miracle that happens again and again and again.

We build religions around such miracles — but only if they are singular.

If a man were to die and then rise again, we would judge it a miraculous resurrection. But if he were to repeat the miracle, dying and rising every day — day after day after day — we would call him a show-off, turn away, and go about our business.

That’s just the way we are with miracles.

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