Some things only happen once in a blue moon.
I never saw the Super Moon, but it was still beautiful.
November nights settle early in London. Gold leaves fan across the ground but I can feel the weight of winter approaching. Thin sunlight streams through windows like ghosts, snuffed out by afternoon. I boarded a damp red bus bound for London’s Primrose Hill. It was barely after four in the afternoon but it was already dark. No matter, I thought. Soon I would see the Super Moon.
On Monday the moon was closer to the earth than it had been since 1948, and will be until 2034. Only 221,525 miles away, as opposed to its usual 238,900. Only.
As I approached the park I imagined a giant orange crushing the city skyscrapers. From where I stood I could see nothing. Nothing.
Black tree branches and pale mists. Beyond, thick cloud cover. I pulled my wool cape close.
…The moon was nowhere to be seen, absent from its own party.
“Excuse me,” I said to a woman walking in the artificial light of a lamp. “This is a strange question, but have you seen the moon tonight?”
“No. But it might clear up. You never know.”
I climbed to the top of the hill for better viewing, surprised that I wasn’t the first to arrive. In the dark I saw people as silhouettes. Couples clung to each other’s hands. Children raced after dogs. Photographers craned over tripods.
Would the Super Moon make an appearance?
I sat on the cold concrete. Sandy water seeped through my jeans from the afternoon’s rain. Square in front of me laid London. Green grass gave way to gray sidewalk, followed by black cityscapes in the distance. The London Eye glowed red, as did tiny traffic and hazard lights in the distance. Everything seemed touched by silver.
Still, the moon was nowhere to be seen, absent from its own party.
If there was disappointment, nobody showed it. The person to my left meditated, the tips of her gloved fingers together. Her face was even, no expectations from past, present, or future. On my right, someone leaned into a boombox. He played meditative music that laced through voices and accents from all over the world. Mandarin, German, Arabic, British English, American English. Conversations wafted and then faded, elusive as the light.
“I heard this was supposed to be the best place to see it…”
“I never told her where my brother lives…”
In this very modern city, all coming from very different circumstances, we stood together for the ancient ritual of gazing at the moon.
The Tang Chinese poet Li Bai wrote about this in the 700s in this famed poem:
低 舉 疑 床
頭 頭 是 前
思 望 地 明
故 明 上 月
鄉 月 霜 光
Recently, I’ve found that translation is a very personal exercise. What I experience in a moment frames the words I find, so here is the latest:
“Calm Night Thinking”
Before my bed the moonlight shines.
I question if it’s frost upon the ground.
I lift my head toward the bright moon.
I lower my head, and think of my hometown.
What strikes me most about this poem is that it illustrates that no matter how far away loved ones are, we all see the same moon. How comforting.
We were all on the hill an hour, some of us longer. Each of us had a different reason for being there, but I suspect it had to do with hope. Even though it was long past the time we were told we could see the Super Moon, it could still happen yet. Out of the darkness comes the light. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it.