Here is an image I love: Nonna’s kitchen with the lights off, baby at the window in her grandmother’s arms. Two heads dear to me turned away, looking up and out at a clear night sky.
Guarda la luna! exclaims Nonna.
Mon! squeals her laughing grandbaby.
Then again in our home: my husband heaves our daughter to the bedside window where, less frequently and through cloudier, light-muddled skies, we spot her when we can: Mon! Or moon-ah, as the baby’s sweet pronunciation changes.
Elizabeth’s first astronomical love was the star. Staawr?, she would say to her grownups, to fellow bus riders and potential new friends, pointing eyes-wide at her star-covered pants or a sticker stuck somewhere, a star printed on a Heineken bottle or in a magazine ad. Liz could pick out a star-shaped object of miniscule proportions from across the room or street, stunning adult eyes with her acuity.
In addition to being one of her first words, “star” was a way for Liz to break the ice. I have wondered about her intentions: Did she think she was teaching her interlocutors something new? Or was she merely inviting them in, indicating our ultimate oneness under the light of all those twinkling staawrs?
Now she loves the moon, too–a logical leap. So, on a lark, I took her to the opening day of a moon-themed exhibit–”The Color of the Moon: Lunar Painting in American Art”— at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers.
We were practically alone in the galleries that day; certainly no one complained as we toddled around the museum floor, singing and laughing, Liz pointing to the moon in each painting we passed: works by Bierstadt, Church, Zorach, Cole, Cropsey—even Norman Rockwell—while I read the thoughtful descriptions.
“We all carry cultural associations with the moon that make it a potent shorthand for artists,” I read under the placard for Gertrude Abercrombie’s piece Woman Under The Moon. “We see a full moon in a painting and imagine that it is the dead of night, a time of mystery and dreams.”
“Moon, moon, moon, I can see/ Moon, moon, moon, you’re taking care of me…”
-The Laurie Berkner Band
After the main exhibit, in the anteroom for the museum’s old planetarium, we perused a history of lunar photography. Here we were left to ponder the intersection of human ingenuity–the technological progression of cameras and telescopes–and humanity’s constant awe and wonder for our closest orbiting neighbor. The moon as a place both known and familiar, yet for the most part unknowable, unreachable.
“In many ways, the moon is an ideal subject-–it shows detail in small telescopes, it doesn’t shine with the overwhelming power of the sun, and it is far brighter than the stars or other objects. For four hundred years, we have known that the moon, like our own Earth, is a world in space.”
—Exhibition text from “A Century of Lunar Exploration and Beyond” at the Hudson River Museum
Finally we explored the Hudson Riverama, the museum’s permanent display about our home river. Here we reminded ourselves that the Hudson (known by some of its earliest human residents, the Mohicans and Lenape, as Muh-he-kun-ne-tuk or Muhheakantuck, meaning “the river that flows two ways”) is tidal from New York Harbor all the way up to Troy, and that is salinity and thus its ecological and biological character derive from the neap-and-spring pull of that verysame much-loved moon.
I have been reading of late how essential it is for a child to experience transcendence in order to build upon her innate spirituality and deepen her spark of the divine. How spirituality, defined broadly as connection to a power greater than oneself, such as God or nature, will set her on a track toward physical and emotional wholeness and resilience. How as a parent my job is to recognize and foster that spiritual bud, and at all costs to avoid squelching or subduing it.
As an urban parent, I have long worried that I will not be able to help her forge this connection, this hotline to the divine via natural wonder. But our sweet baby has cut right through my worry and forged that connection herself. While I was busy looking down at her and worrying too much, she was looking up, at all times of day, in all seasons and skies.
Mon! Mon! Mon! she exclaims as she points, with the world’s sweetest giggle. It’s there, she urges, with insistent gestures and an animal faith that is steadily restoring my own.
A lesson from the cosmos.
You keep looking up, sweet bird. There’s a moon up there. Always.