Middle Israel: The moon: An autobiography

Man and his whims have been to me all along but one continuous laugh.

Man on moon 521 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Man on moon 521
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Like earth, I have lived all these eons in the sun’s shadow and in the company of stars, but unlike my bigger brother I have shouldered nothing, and at the same time seen it all.
Over the ages, I have come to know all about earth’s meteorological whims and geological outbursts, and about its inhabitants’ creeds, passions, wars, appetites, temptations, hopes and delusions, as I have been condemned to watch from afar my neighbor and his tenants while always on their minds and yet never coming in their midst.
Having emerged from my creation bruised by meteorite bombardments and punctured by volcanic shoots, I looked around and assessed my situation. Company, I quickly concluded, will not be my lot. Other than the monthly cordialities I exchange with Venus and Mars upon emergence from earth’s obstruction, mine has been a life even lonelier than the Little Prince’s.
Moreover, from infancy I have been incessantly reminded of my inferiority, for I am not merely smaller than my bigger brother, but I also orbit him, a satellite condemned to continuously salute his superior.
Now that situation, let me tell you, will do wonders to foster one’s humility, or if you will, to one’s knowing one’s place in the world; not like Mars, who thinks he is a big shot just because someone once named him after the Roman god of war.
I, by contrast, remained unimpressed when earthlings worshiped me, whether as Luna the Roman, Artemis the Greek, Gleti the African, or Chang- O the Chinese; just like I wasn’t insulted when Helios, Neptune or Jupiter were imagined as male gods, whether of the sun, the sea or the heavens, while I – seen even from out there as small, weak, and pale, a repository of water as opposed to the sun’s fire, a fountain of knowledge as opposed to the sun’s activation, I the passive yin, and the sun the active yang – was depicted as a woman.
The biggest farce was that assorted civilizations and faiths claimed I ruled fertility.
“What fertility,” I thought once when watching smoke billow from a colonnaded temple where worshipers sang my praises. If only those idiots had known even the most basic facts about of life – that up here no tree stands, no flower blossoms, and no bud ever sprouted, that since my toddlerhood I haven’t spewed a tongue of fire nor shed one tear of dew – then surely they would blush, as I myself sometimes do, when peeking through thick clouds at humanity’s vanities, tribulations, frustrations and sins.
THE PERIOD of deity eventually gave way to an era of utility.
One religion, for instance, governed its calendar by lighting bonfires on tall mountaintops each time I completed another circle of earth – as if to applaud a marathon’s completion. Another religion painted its holy virgin standing on a crescent, thus reducing me from God herself to God’s footstool. And a third faith placed a crescent atop its many minarets, flags and tombstones, too, as I became an emblem not of fertility, but of resurrection.
Good for them all, I thought forgivingly, surely they mean well. Meanwhile, a third era in my days dawned – so to speak. Now, rather than a subject of faith or object of observance, I became a focus of curiosity.
First, a guy called Galileo started aiming lenses in my direction, like an impolite child pointing his little finger at a stranger. Generations of scholars now followed, each with his telescope, curiosities, and theories, all of which didn’t bother me, even as the telescopes grew longer, their lenses thicker, and their tripods taller, so much so that they made special houses for them where people stood on line to get a better view of me, apparently an extension of the expanding human custom at the time to cage animals and watch them through bars.
Still, puzzling though it was, I didn’t mind this voyeurism, as it obstructed none of my view and brought not one earthling even one inch closer to me, for even the best telescope still left the distance between its user and me about 40 times the distance between Melbourne and New York.
And even as man’s wars intensified, and his bombs grew heavier, and his cannon longer, and his rifles sharper, I remained removed from the fray, as I did even as chimneys spewing smoke sprang all over my bigger brother, like pocks in an ailing human body, and even after airplanes began rising from his flesh and flying in front of him like mosquitoes irritating a human face, and even after bombs stronger than all their predecessors raised mushroom clouds 10 miles high – I remained untouched, unvisited, unimpressed and unperturbed.
But then one fortnight somebody out there fired an object that soon enough joined me in orbiting my brother; and then they rocketed a human being who orbited me – I could actually see his helmet and face; and finally a vessel came so close to me that for the first time in my history I got a feel of what so many before me had so routinely felt, the feeling of something flying in one’s face; and then that something gently landed on me, and for the first time ever I felt what others feel daily when touched, caressed, kissed, and embraced; and then an earthling emerged from that vehicle, and then another, and for the first time in my life I hosted visitors, uninvited though they were, and I sniffed new smells, like petrol, rubber, and sweat, and I heard new sounds, from a radio’s staccato to an explorer’s glee.
MY BROTHER in my place might have reacted violently – uncorking deluge, spewing a volcano, stirring a maelstrom, or quaking his face. Not I. Even after my visitors pricked me with the pole that remains planted in my flesh like a cactus in the Mojave, I took it all lovingly, for man and his whims have been to me all along but one continuous laugh.
A few centuries ago, when a priest named Giovanni Riccioli decided the stains with which I am coated were lakes, and also gave them inventive names like Sea of Nectar and Sea of Showers – I laughed. And when they named that vessel Apollo, that’s the sun god, thus putting to shame their assorted moon goddesses – I laughed. And when man called extra work moonlighting – I smirked. And when he called illegal alcohol production moonshining – I chuckled. And when he renamed idiot as “lunatic” – assuming idiocy fluctuates in tandem with my orbit – I chortled. And when I heard him call the enthralled “moonstruck” – I giggled. And when this singer bent his legs and claimed he was moonwalking – I sniggered.
And when man crowned for his king a guy called Ban Ki-moon – I guffawed.
And as I now see this Moon dude embracing that poorly shaven, self-declared crusader of the Crescent – I crack up, imagining the one singing in the other’s ear that Yiddish song’s enchanting lines:
A gift from heaven
You’ve been sent to me
Shining as the stars
Pretty as the moon.
The writer is a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute. www.MiddleIsrael.com