California

Cold Moon Before Yule

I don’t have a bucket list because I so rarely know what are the things I need to do before I die. Rather, my list is one that I add something to after the fact because only then is when I realize that I truly needed that moment to make my life complete. This attitude works for me because I try to live in hope without expectation. The moment I expect something to be someway is the moment I feel my soul begin to shrivel. I become meaner because nothing ever lives up to my expectations. So rather than enjoying the blessings of the moment, I leave disappointed–the opposite of the Grinch with my heart shrunk three sizes smaller.

Living with hope is different. It allows me to find the wonder in all situations. It allows me more once in a lifetime moments because I am open to them. My heart is ready.

When coming back from Tallinn, Estonia on the aptly named Tallink ferry, I impulsively bought four splits of ship’s label sparkling wine because they were 4 for 3 and who can pass that deal up? It was the night before my friend and I were to run a marathon in Helsinki, so she rightly question my judgement in buying the four bottles clanking and heavy in my bag. But the purchase just felt so right–almost divinely inspired I argued. Besides, when is sparkling wine ever a bad thing?

We got off the ferry in Helsinki and began the late night trudge with all our other ferry-travelers across the docks to Helsinki proper and a taxi that would take us back to our rooms. When lo and behold, we came upon an electronica dance party spread across one of the piers. It was a BYOB thing with a DJ set up across two rickety camp tables. People danced, drank, and chatted while we ferry-travelers pushed through the mob. At this moment we had a choice: go home and sleep before the marathon or stay and dance. With four (3 for 4) splits of sparkly in my bag, how could we miss this chance to dance in the chill Finnish August air? My friend and I bid farewell to the broad backs of our ferry travelers, opened our splits, and let the music move through our bodies.

For continuity of topic, I should note that the full moon rose over the city, lighting the pier with soft light that visually expressed the electricity of the music and moment. But I wasn’t paying any attention to the moon. Celestial bodies are so constant, so every day (and night), that I rarely look up beyond sunset and trying figure out constellations when camping. Unlike my ancestors, I do not live by the sun, moon, and stars.

But there’s something magical about trying. This year had so many interesting lunar moments that the moon actually blipped on my radar (yes, I went there). I actually made a point to pay attention to the news of the sky and look up when it happened. I saw the Seder blood moon, the super blood moon eclipse, and made plans to see the Christmas super moon last week.

I’ll be honest, where I live surrounded by coastal hills and ambient light, seeing these moons rise is a bit underwhelming. I do not have amazing photographs of a glowing orb filling the sky. Rather, each moment has been looking for a small (sometimes red) dot to appear over distant hills. I make promises that the next one I’ll be somewhere where the moonrise is dramatic–like an island or the desert. But each time, I am in San Diego or the near surround.

For the Christmas moon, I was in Temecula, so I didn’t expect much. We drove to a small mound of bare earth surrounded by nondescript housing projects, trespassing on the brush-covered space as the orange in the sky to the west seeped away behind dark cutouts of mountains. Across the airport, the mountains to the east were pink-tinged in the last warmth of the sun, the shadows rising up their slopes until just their tips glowed then winked out. Lights began to flare across the town, earthbound counterparts to the stars pocking the darkening indigo sky. A few storm clouds hung over the eastern mountains but the air was clear and sharp with cold.

My family and I huddled in our Southern California winter wear–sweaters, beanies, fingerless gloves–waiting for the moon to rise. We arrived just five minutes before the projected time and with the stargazer app on my phone, I could pinpoint the moon’s position just below the horizon (God bless technology). We figured it would be another few minutes for it to crest the hill and then we would be able to go back to the warmth of my grandparents’ house.

Those minutes passed. More minutes passed. Even more minutes passed. No moon and the desert cold was trickling up our sleeves, down our collars. Hunched and huddled on our bit ‘o earth in suburbia, we checked the app again: the moon had definitely risen but we couldn’t see it. Finally, I began to truly look at the horizon. Behind those hulking mountains hung a thick cloud curtain. A fain darkness just at the edge of the sky, a delineating slice of black that cut through the indigo star-studded sky. Even a full moon couldn’t shine through that.

Still we waited as the night got darker and colder. Then, along the ridge of clouds, a faint gray edge began to form. It grew brighter and brighter, stretching silver across the horizon. A decade of minutes went by and still no moon. Only the expectant promise.

Ghost rays of white fanned up from the gilded clouds. They streaked over the stars, bone fingers reaching up into the sky, pulling up up through the thickness of the storm. Surely now we would see the moon. Another score of minutes passed without the moon as the light grew brighter.

And here is the magic, not that the moon rose. Because we all know it did. But that this glory all around us reached into our hearts and pulled music out. We began to carol. Oh Holy Night, fall on your knees in the midnight clear as angels we have heard on high sing joy to the world, gloria, gloria. We aren’t great singers but our voice rang over scrub and track homes, celebrating the miracle of being alive, warm hearts in the cold as a full moon outside of our sight filled the sky with light.

Then, 45 minutes after its expected rise, the moon peeped over the cloud line, greeted by our song. A molten egg being drawn into the stars.

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