Pandemic Thoughts: Day 21
Pondering the SuperMoon
There was a supermoon on Tuesday night. It’s the closest the moon will be to us in all of 2020. Interestingly, despite how it may seem, supermoons aren’t actually that much bigger than a normal full moon but they do look brighter which is part of the reason we think they’re so much bigger.
Also, despite the fact that my friend happened to capture a photo of the moon rising with a pink hue this evening, we call it a “pink” moon because of certain flowers that bloom in April in North America around this time of year that are pink. In other parts of the world it’s called different things depending on what happens to grow there.
Historically, the moon has meant many things to many people. It’s been a way to keep time, tell stories, mark harvest festivals, symbolize religious or romantic beliefs, inspire art, and even galvanize scientific and space exploration. I personally only recently learned how to see both the man and the rabbit on the moon.
It’s fun to hear how generations of people over thousands of years have looked at the same image and come up with different, but often similar, stories. The man was a drunkard caught stealing something and banished to the moon for it. The rabbit is a companion to a moon goddess and pounds the elixir of life, or rice cakes, in his pestle. Now, when I see a full moon, I often spend a minute trying to toggle the images back and forth in my head.
One of my favorite moon-related things is to camp during a full moon. It helps me imagine a time before electricity when the light from the moon was an important part of regular human life. It would determine the best time to travel and allow for certain types of work or activities like hunting.
It’s still important to animals in those ways, even if we’ve since diverted ourselves with the artificial glow of Facebook and Netflix. It still surprises me just how clear of a shadow the moon’s glow can cast on a clear night with no other lights around.
One of the more interesting things about the moon is its relationship to Easter and Passover, which happen to overlap this year. Easter is the only “movable feast” on the Christian calendar and growing up Catholic I never understood the reason it moved around. I still never remember the rules. For the record, it’s apparently the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Easy, right?
Passover is more set in its date, even if it doesn’t seem so in relation to our standard Gregorian calendar. It’s apparently always on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan. Since the Hebrew calendar is tied to the lunar cycles, that day is always a full moon — just not necessarily the same full moon that determines Easter in the solar calendar.
For an interesting diversion, this Atlantic article goes into the particulars of the ancient math that determines both holidays. There’s also obviously a lot of traditional overlap between the two, with Passover the backdrop to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Bible. The Last Supper was, after all, a seder — the ritual Passover dinner.
This curiosity got stirred up in me when I finished dinner and realized I hadn’t left the house all day. Part of my mental health regimen that is becoming increasingly important in this pandemic is to take at least one trip out of the house every 24 hours. My friend’s text with the picture of the rising moon gave me the excuse I needed to venture outside for a short walk.
By the time I headed out, the moon was already high in the sky beaming down like a pretty regular full moon — nothing too “super” about it. I walked down to the hike and bike trail next to Lady Bird Lake and out onto one of the boardwalk extensions that stretches off the shore. I was mindful to keep my distance from the other guy there and to not touch the railing with my hands as I took pictures of the moon in one direction and the downtown skyline in the other. It was a peaceful scene and I wondered why I hadn’t done it before. Might be a nice nightly ritual to adopt.
Articles, news stories and blog posts this week are sharing ideas about how to celebrate what is one of the holiest weeks of the year for millions of people while locked inside homes. Passover rules are being bent, Easter church services will be streamed online, and egg hunts are being called off or re-imagined. In short, we’re adapting as we always have to circumstances and forces bigger than us and even our traditions.
In the course of following this line of thought about the moon, I came across a website for the Museum of the Moon, a touring artwork by the UK artist Luke Jerram. It presents a model of the moon in different settings around the world to intentionally alter the experience and interpretation of it in each place. As the site and the video say, the moon has always acted as a “cultural mirror to society, reflecting the ideas and beliefs of all people around the world.”
In a time of such upheaval in our lives here on Earth, it’s comforting to be able to look up at something that is so permanent. It was there looking down on the people who quarantined during the plague, it was going through its regular cycles all through the Spanish Flu pandemic a hundred years ago, and it will be there long after this pandemic has run its course. We’ll continue to look up at it and project our hopes, dreams and fears, and it will continue to serve as a mirror to who we are and what we believe about ourselves and the forces that are bigger than us.
Diversion of the Day
Hard to call this one a true diversion as it relates directly to our current situation. John Prine died on Tuesday from complications related to coronavirus. He was respected and admired for his ability to chronicle the human condition in America the efficient and evocative arrangement of words that told the plain truth.
This one’s a perfect example of that… Hope he’s sipping that vodka and ginger ale.