Monday, December 15, 2008

The moon, 12DEC08

SFC McG and I were waiting for the birds to come pick us up on Friday night (we lucked out that night: they came to us; we didn't have to be driven to the landing zone (LZ) to board) when the moon rose in the east just as the sun was setting. I took out my camera and attempted to capture some of the magnificence of the sight, but of course it's not a great camera to begin with, and what with my "idiopathic benign essential tremor" (I shake a lot; looks like I've got the DTs sometimes, ironically), my hopes for an award-winning shot were dashed.

All that notwithstanding, however, the moon appeared larger and brighter and more intense than I remembered it, perhaps since I was in the Amazon in the early 90s. It looked as though I could see every one of the Man in the Moon's zits. Amazing.

Once we were in the air and headed south, though, the real treat greeted us. The setting sun emblazoned the western sky with every color of the spectrum, as if the light were being refracted through a giant prism. Which of course it was, but I never really did like physics class....

There are no terrain features to speak of in that direction, so the prismatic color was unbroken by either earth or the cloudless sky. I have never seen a more dazzling color display at sunset. I suspect the dust in the air (though negligible these days compared to what it has been since we arrived) might have contributed to the aerial palette we saw.

SFC McG and I were the only two passengers on the aircraft, so I got to sit next to the window, as is my wont. The moonlight lasered its rather sterile whiteness into the aircraft over my right shoulder (I was facing the rear of the chopper) while the impassioned colors being pulled from sight along the western horizon by the setting sun bathed us in a warm multicolor glow from the left.

It seemed as if the lights were dueling for attention. I was transfixed, but getting a crick in my neck from having to look back and forth, trying not to miss any of the experience. Strapped into the seat by shoulder and lap belts, and wearing full battle rattle (as they say in Army parlance), I had much less freedom of movement than I'd have preferred in the moment. However, given my recent experience of 'tactical evasive movements' on the part of military aircraft, I was nevertheless glad to be buckled in!

Humbled by my relative smallness in the face of the expansiveness of the landscape below and light show above, I was reminded of the poem, "God's Grandeur" by Gerard Manley Hopkins (a Jesuit with some *real* talent!):

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; 5
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 10
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs­
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

My sober friend Sam (who, when asked once if he were a Jesuit because he was hanging around me so much, responded: "No, I have a life.") would probably just say, "God was showing off again."

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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