I used to be scared of the dark. Sometimes I’m still scared. It was probably because of monsters or ghosts in my closet. As I grew up, I realized that it wasn’t really the monsters I was afraid of. After all, the monsters had no face, no proof of existence, or anything beyond a whisper in my mind. I was afraid of the things that I can’t see. I was afraid of the unknown, and in the darkness, everything is unknown. When the night time came, I lost sight of where I was going, who I was with, or what was around me. The path I had been walking disappears into oblivion that I can’t see. The kind faces turned into malicious snarls. I would stand in my room, memorize every detail, turn the lights out, hold my breath, flip the switch back on, and scan the room with my eyes for anything that seemed out of place. I didn’t understand how something I was staring at could become so terrifying the minute I couldn’t see it anymore even though I knew what was right there. It was insanity. As a child, I needed a hero to get me through the night. When the lights went out, the only source of light came from outside. There would be a small square illuminated on my bedroom floor, slashed through by the window frame. I could crawl out of my bed, sit in that square of light and stare into the face of the man I had heard so many stories about. I would look at the man in the moon.
The stories said he was a man who watched over everything, living in the moon so that he could see. He would protect you, light up the darkness, and hold you until the sun had made its way around the world saying hello to the other half. It was confusing at first, I didn’t understand why looking up would help. Darkness doesn’t disappear when I tilt my head away from it. I can imagine the man looking down at me, seeing nothing but an anxious face peering through glass, body enveloped in the darkness of her bedroom. The questions that raced through my mind were typical, how did he get there? How does he live in space without air? Where is his face? It seemed like everybody could see his face but me. When I looked up, all I could see was a permanent night light that I couldn’t plug into my wall. As time went on and the imagination became subdued with age, the man was forgotten. The darkness wasn’t so scary anymore, it was simply there.
The first time I saw his face form in the craters of the surface, it looked like I had terrified him. His eyes looked wide with terror and his mouth opened in a perfect o that made you think he was mid gasp when he saw me looking up. We made eye contact for the first time and I could hear the gasp escaping my own lips. He’s real. I couldn’t believe my eyes. That face that had eluded me appeared like a lighthouse over a stormy sea. He had reflected my own reaction. It was like a shadow that had been discovered with the dawning of the light and rushed to disappear, begging for the light to blanket its existence. It was a brief encounter, the shock of it made me look away almost the instant I discovered him. With time, the imagination was subdued by bigger fears and I forgot about the man, I forgot about his face. The moon is simply a floating rock that orbits another rock that I happen to be standing on. I imagine his eyes and mouth closing, releasing the last of his breath on an exhale, and cocooning into his home. Time passes and I forget about the man in the moon and the moon returns to being a rock in the sky that illuminates the night when I can’t see.
The next time I discovered the man in the moon, he didn’t look terrified to see me and I wasn’t terrified to see him. He looked surprised. His wide eyes were curious, his mouth open in a perfect o of amusement. I don’t know what he’s surprised about. It’s probably the weirdness of the human beings that he’s watching day in and out. People do the strangest things when they think no one is looking. They are suddenly capable of much more than they lead on or they shed off the mask they’ve been wearing all day. The inner self, the soul comes out when you think it’s just you, but the man in the moon sees it all. I thought I had seen it all at this age but the sight of the man in the moon surprised me and reminded me how large the universe really is. I wondered if he had seen the inner parts of me, the me that comes out when I think I’m all alone. What was I like? Was I still funny, capable of turning anything into a joke and pulling a smile out of you? Was I still witty, returning quips and thinking quickly on my feet? Was I still kind, willing to slow down and hold you when your eyes leaked out the pain? Was I still compassionate, unafraid to cry with you? Was I still courageous, daring to go and say the things no one else would? Was I happy, smiling the way I did when anyone looked my direction? Was I who you thought I am? Even when no one else is looking? The man remains silent and simply maintains his expression of surprise as I wonder out loud about who I am. The anxiety that creeps over you as you begin to wonder if your secrets were exposed crawled over me. The nagging fear that something was coming closer and closer but you couldn’t see it grew. Had he figured me out? Could he see my fears? I had the world fooled but I wasn’t sure about him anymore. Still, the man remained silent and surprised. But I grew up. Again, time passes and I forget about the man in the moon and the moon returns to being a rock in the sky that illuminates the night when I can’t see.
The next time I discovered the man in the moon, he looked sad. His eyes were wide with pain, his mouth in a perfect o that looked like he was mid sob. Maybe he had realized what kind of a job he had really signed up for. Maybe he realized why nobody else had volunteered. Nobody told him how being the man in the moon, the stuff of myths and legends, would be so lonely. The power that comes from being able to see it all and keep an eye on us as our hero means seeing the pain, corruption, and heartbreak. Nobody had told him how deep the wounds would cut him too. Nobody told him his heart would break with ours. He didn’t know that he would see such tragedy, wars that tore about nations, couples missing each other with him as their only source of connection to the other, the angry drunk cursing him for the darkness in his own life, the families sitting on the streets when their home was taken from them, the people left behind in shock when a friend is snatched so quickly by death, and all of the teenagers, children, and adults sitting by the window late at night crying and praying nobody would hear them because something shattered their heart into a million pieces and they don’t know how to clean it up. The tragedy of life brought them to their knees and lifted their chins high to look at him, and he looked back. He made eye contact with every single person and holds their pain in his hands and his heart as if they were his own. It wasn’t so bad when it was just a couple people, but as the pain spread like a disease, he suddenly didn’t have the hands to carry it all. He sees every person he holds but also the ones he drops. Sometimes, the load becomes too much and someone gets dropped and he hides behind a cloud until he can get his grip back. It would take minutes, hours, or maybe never. He felt the disappointment and betrayal from the hurting ones as he sat behind his cloud, desperately praying for the capacity to hold it all. He didn’t know that he would be forced to witness life, every aspect of it, even the parts that we pretend don’t exist. He sees it all, there’s no hiding it. My heart broke with his, his heart broke with mine, our hearts broke together as we realized our desire to love and help all was impossible. We couldn’t make it possible no matter how hard we tried. We can only love those near us and those we encounter, and somehow that felt too small. We shed tears together for those we never had the chance to love, pounded our fists for those we didn’t love right, and loved deeper for those we could hold. When quiet crept between us, the pain of not feeling loved drowned my own soul. The tears we had shared, the pounding of our fists, the love we tried so hard to gather wasn’t just for everybody else, it was for me too. Still, the dawn appears before the revelation, racing across the night sky, pulling back the curtain of day, and sweeps away the thoughts of the night. Again, time passes and I forget about the man in the moon and the moon returns to being a rock in the sky that illuminates the night when I can’t see.
The last time I discovered the man in the moon, he wasn’t terrified, surprised, or sad. Instead, his face was in awe. I wondered what he had seen that was beautiful enough to capture his breath. His eyes were wide with marvel, his mouth in a perfect o of adoration. What could he see that I couldn’t? Maybe he started to see the beauty that accompanied tragedy. He realized that the person holding tragedy’s hand wasn’t devastation or pain, but beauty. The last person he would’ve guessed to be tragedy’s companion was the one he began to look at. Instead of turning away from tragedy and pain, he had forced himself to continue watching, to bear through the aftermath. As he braced himself, he saw the new creations that followed the war, the couples reuniting after time apart, the drunk who got sober and looked for the light in his life, the families with their new home, the friends gathering together and honoring the life of the one snatched too quickly, and all of the teenagers, children, and adults sitting by the window late at night with someone they care about sharing laughter, stories, and love. He saw the hope that humans stored within them and the great capacity to spread it just as quick as anxiety, pain, fear, and the other things that held them captive. Underneath the ugly side of life, the beauty began to show itself. He realized his load is quite light compared to what it could be if people stopped spreading hope; he saw how if he expanded his love just a bit wider, he wouldn’t have to drop anybody and could shine a little brighter for those who were helping to lighten his load. A warm, fuzzy, feeling that escapes words began to grow inside him. That feeling when you see something you’re passionate about and begin to throw yourself into it, it’s the moment when the thing you love pulls you in and the whole world disappears around you. Even now as I type, I’m trying to hold that feeling before it escapes me but I find that every word I pin to its chest simply falls off. How foolish of me to think that something so great could be defined by something as little as a word. It came for him in the forgiveness that follows the argument, the smile that comes when someone is comforted, the singing that happens only in the shower and the car, the creations that people try so hard to hide because they’re afraid the world will not accept it as if the world could have an opinion applicable to something so precious, and he sees us open our hearts to one another and the beauty that follows that. It took him so long to see the beauty. Why? Maybe he didn’t know that beauty was masked in fear, surprise, and sadness. Maybe it’s the aftermath of getting through something we didn’t know we could go through and surprising ourselves with courage that we didn’t know we had. Maybe beauty is in every tear shed, every argument, every apology, every note we sing. She had been hiding in plain sight. The man in the moon had been looking the whole time, he just hadn’t been able to see, blinded by his own light.
The man in the moon has been my friend for a long time. When I first saw him, I was afraid because I didn’t know who he was. As time passed, the fear faded as the unknown became known. The next time I saw him, I was surprised to see that he was still there, still watching over me. People have walked in and out of my life but I knew that he was there to stay. There was someone I could count on. In a world full of people scared of commitment and work, his steadiness was surprising. When we looked at each other again, my heart was broken, and his broke for me. The last time I saw him, I was in awe. It had felt like my world had switched from black and white to technicolor and I could see. I thought the man in the moon was scared, surprised, sad, and in awe because of where he’s at. He wanted to do more than simply illuminate the sky. Maybe all this time, I’ve been looking into a mirror that he put up. Instead of projecting himself onto us, he has allowed us to project ourselves onto him. He was clever enough to set up a mirror so that he could reflect back what was in our hearts, so that we could make it through the night. He saw the capability humans have to be strong and courageous and was kind enough not to rob us of our opportunities to let it come through.
When we look at him, we all see a different face because we all see a different reflection. I thought I was looking at him but really, he had allowed me to look back in my soul. I got to share that with him. Maybe his job isn’t to take care of all of us but instead, he shows us where we are in life, who we are, and what we are capable of when we forget. Life has a funny way of robbing our knowledge of our own strength. He just reflects it and hopes we happen to tilt our chins high enough to see it. I discovered and rediscovered the man in the moon every time I needed a reminder of who I was. I forgot I wasn’t invincible, I forgot I wasn’t immune to pain, and I had forgotten I am human. He reminded me that it was okay to be human, flawed and all, and still shine so brightly that you illuminate the night for those who can’t see. We shine brighter and brighter with each reminder that we hold love, have hope, are blessed, and are staring beauty right in the face; all he does is nudge us to see her. When we do, we illuminate and don’t even know it, making us more beautiful than before.
I was afraid of the dark when I was younger. I was afraid of the unknown. It’s easy being afraid of the things you can’t see, but I learned it’s just as easy to be afraid of the things you can see. Now, as I grow older, I know more and more and the dark becomes less and less terrifying. Even when the shadows reveal a monster in my path, I remember my courage, the one that appears even when I don’t think anyone is looking, and walk right past it, never giving it the chance to harm me. I heard in a movie that 20 seconds of insane courage will get you something amazing, and that’s what I get from the man in the moon. I know time will pass and one day, I’ll forget about the man in the moon and the moon will return to being a rock in the sky that illuminates the night when I can’t see. There will be days when the path once again is enveloped in darkness and I lose sight, but I also know that there will be another day when I look up and see his face. He’ll see once again, the little girl’s anxious face turned up through glass, swallowed up by the darkness of her room, but he’ll also see that smile of familiarity as old friends reunite. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes, but I think beauty is much bigger than a twinkle in our eye. She doesn’t stay trapped in our views, she roams the world freely, and we decide if we want to see her or not. Maybe if we’re brave enough to stick through the after math of tragedy, we can learn to stop looking, and begin seeing.
I am so thankful that he looked at me that night as I drove across the bridge to come home. The highway was near empty, the dark waters on either side of the bridge lapped against the walls, and the music in my car filled the space for me to enjoy. He had caught my eye and I had the courage to look back. The awe I had seen in him was the awe that I didn’t know I had. It wasn’t his view that changed, it was mine. The world was different because I chose to look at the underside, the beauty tucked beneath the tragedy. I saw that pain doesn’t rule our world. He reminded me of where I stood, who I was, and what I was capable of. I know that the next time I lose my way and begin to forget the way we tend to do, I can tilt my chin up when my knees hit the floor and catch the sight of him that sets us free. He’ll illuminate my night sky when I can’t see, he’ll help me look and discover what I need to see, and remind me that the light I see in him is the light I have in me.