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On Tuesday, December 21, my students came to class sleepy-eyed and dazed. Many of them had stretched out on one of the wide lawns of the Colorado College campus the night before and looked skyward as the earth cast its big shadow across the full moon, obstructing its light and turning the orb a glowing reddish brown. The solstice lunar eclipse was a night to remember.
“It was so beautiful,” they cooed, their eyes still glittering with the freshness of that unique shared experience.
I had casually accepted the weatherman’s prediction that there would be cloud cover, and slept through the event. For three and a half years now, I have dreaded and avoided full moons.
My son died on a full moon night in late July, 2007, and of all the images of that terrifying passage of time — stopped, slowed, rushed, distorted —what I remember most clearly is the sight of the round, glowing moon out the car window as we drove away from the ruined site of his passing. It seemed as if the moon hovered over us, moving across the silent 3 a.m. streets like a spotlight.
Years before, when my three sons were second and fourth graders and I was a busy newspaper editor, I had rushed home from work one winter night to witness the lunar eclipse with them. It was cold and I fed them a quick dinner of hamburgers before we reclined on the back lawn for their special homework assignment. We spread out quilts and lay side by side singing every moon song we could think of, waiting for the creeping shadow to begin blocking out the full moon’s light. My oldest boy, the one whose absence now colors our Christmases, kept running back into the house to collect more blankets, sleeping bags, and pillows. He covered us and tucked us in against the cold sky and the gradually darkening moon. He was a nester and this was one of his greatest pleasures.
After he died, I couldn’t find a way to let the full moon in, to let it lift my heart. When it appeared, I glanced at it cautiously, then looked away. My friends wrote me kind notes from Maine and Colorado, where they sat in their back yards, watching the full moon and thinking of my son while I took cover in South Texas, avoiding the sight of the moon’s reflection on the gentle waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
But this Christmas, the universe has granted me an immeasurable gift, I can look at the full moon again and feel joy. My students gave it back to me with their starry eyes and glowing faces. The clerk at the local coffee shop gave it back to me when he pontificated over the eclipse.
“Dude, it’s not going to happen again for, like 450 years!” he told a co-worker.
It happened last night as I was driving through the narrow, wooded streets of my neighborhood. To the east, the sky glowed. My first thought was that a house was on fire, someone’s house burning, just before Christmas. But when I crested a hill and the trees parted, I saw the magnificent rising full moon, it’s face carved, its outline shimmering against the black winter sky. I pulled over to look at it longer, and to catch the breath it had stolen from me.
All around, the houses and yards glittered with Christmas lights, and atop one house, a star. I thought of the passage in Matthew, the story of the star that guided the Wise Men, a story that had always thrilled me when I was a kid waiting for Christmas:
“… and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.”
Looking into the face of the full moon again has let me remember my boy, the nester, who wrapped us in soft layers and bundled up and lay down beside us to witness the miracle of the eclipse. This Christmas, the full moon is a beacon of beauty that gives me hope. Whenever its light is obscured, whether by a passing cloud, or on rare occasions, by the enormous shadow of the revolving earth, it is still there and will always return.
Kathryn Eastburn is the author of A Sacred Feaest: Reflections of Sacred Harp Singing and Dinner on the Ground, and Simon Says: A True Story of Boys and Murder in the Rocky Mountain West. You can comment and read or listen to this column again at The Big Something at KRCC.org. “The Middle Distance” is published every Friday on The Big Something and airs each Saturday at 1 p.m. right after This American Life.
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