After Neil Armstrong’s death in 2012, his family made the touching statement: “Next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”
Isn’t that’s a lovely piece of advice? Not just in memory of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, but to anyone who has ever fallen under the captivating spell of our lunar friend, who at times really does seem to have an almost holy persona all of his or her own, rather like a mythical god.
How many poets, authors, musicians and artists over the millennia, as well as ordinary people like you and me who won’t go down in history (although who knows, some of us might still do that…) have been lured by the moon’s delight? Omar Khayyam, for one. He wrote this poignant stanza way back in eleventh-century Arabia, which was translated into English by Edward Fitzgerald in the nineteenth century:
Ah, moon of my delight who know’st no wane,
The moon of heaven is rising once again!
How oft hereafter rising shall she look
Through this same garden after me in vain?
I like to imagine Omar Khayyam standing in some exotic moonlit garden one sultry Eastern night, staring up at the glowing sphere of Earth’s nearest and dearest companion. (And btw, Omar happened to have rather a good opinion of himself and was almost certainly drop dead gorgeous – I’m sure I’d have fancied him like mad, had I been around at the time.) I like to picture him narrowing his eyes in philosophic musing as he contemplates the very same thoughts that all of us are still thinking today; about death and mortality and memory and beauty, and the incomprehensible universe out there which is partially within our gaze but totally beyond our comprehension, and which is somehow, intangibly, exemplified in that gilded spectre. Our very own moon, personalised by each one of us since our earliest childhood; the very same moon that has been immortalised in literature and other arts, and that will continue to fascinate and enchant us for millennia to come. The moon and its fabled glory we all grasp at.
Remember the Elisabeth Fritzl case that shocked the world, back in 2008? When her children were at last freed from their basement enclosure in which their father-cum-grandfather had imprisoned them – and in which they had been born and grown up, deprived of fresh air and the open sky and the real world way up above their dungeon lair in Austria – the first thing that the youngest child marvelled at when he was carried outside, was no other than the moon. Apparently his ashen, vitamin D-deprived face broke out into an exalted smile of wonder as he gazed up at it, pointing with a trembling finger. The moon had caught his heart.
And the moon continues to catch all of our hearts, again and again and again. Titles of songs, poems, films, abound with it: The Moon and Sixpence, Dark Side of the Moon, Fly Me to the Moon, Moon Shadow, Moon River, Paper Moon …
So what is it about our nearest celestial neighbour that has so caught our imaginations and yearnings over the centuries? The stars have also done that; but they are further away, seemingly smaller, less bright, less personal … it’s the moon that whispers to us on still, fragrant nights, that watches us, breathes on us, even seems to care about us, or so we like to believe … and yet at the same time, reminds us that our own earthly mortality is not shared. The moon will be there long after we are gone, shining down on other earthlings who replace us, and will hardly bat a lunar eyelid in our absence. The moon will continue to cast its silvery glow upon our terrestrial gardens, whether we are standing in them or not. The moon is constant yet faithless, as Omar Khayyam surmised all those centuries ago. The moon’s intrigue and allure will last while we do not, and its lovers will be many. A fickle, polygamous fixture of the ever-moving universe.
So, fellow blogger, when next you stand outside on a clear night and gaze upwards, remember to wink at the moon and think of Neil Armstrong, as well as all those other billions of souls, some of them long-departed and some of us still stuck here. And remember to muse upon the inconstancy of the cosmos in which we dwell. Then small human frailties like infidelity and envy and fear will seem very small indeed.
At the end of the day, aren’t we all just a handful of moon dust?