Sometimes, when the events swirling around me threaten to become overwhelming, I force myself to take a moment to clear my head, to pause, to reflect. In spite of the complexities of the world and the naked aggression of modern culture, we live in an age of wonders.
For less than $10 I can take the train downtown to the National Mall, and walk a couple of blocks to the National Air and Space Museum. It’s a huge building, as you’d expect for a space filled with planes and rockets and capsules and stuff. But my favorite place is right at the entrance: a narrow metal pillar with an opening on each side at about waist level. There’s never any line here, with most people being overawed by the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules arrayed in the room.
Inside the pillar, embedded in a circle of white plastic, is a smooth triangle of black basalt. You can reach inside and slide your fingers over the cool surface of the stone. It is not intrinsically remarkable. Without the sign, you’d never know you were touching a piece of the Moon.
A piece of the Moon, of the damned Moon — no, a piece of the fucking Moon! Sitting in the entrance to a museum, open for all visitors to touch, and largely ignored in favor of the shiny missiles and worn down capsules and IMAX movies and gift shops and other marvels created by the hands of Man.
I stood in front of the pillar, my left hand under the protective Plexiglas, my fingers lightly stroking a piece of another world. A middle-aged Japanese couple approached from the other side, and looked puzzled by the item on display. The gentleman looked at me quizzically, and asked where the rock had gone. I explained to him that the unremarkable black stone I was touching was a piece of the Moon. He turned to his wife and said something to her, and her eyes lit up. I withdrew my hand, and she tentatively slid her own into the opening. As her fingers gingerly touched the glassy basalt, her face broke into a huge smile. She excitedly said something in Japanese, grabbed her husband’s hand, and pulled it in with hers. Together, they rested their hands on the surface of the Moon.
Whether we know it or not, we live in an age of miracles.
(Among others, for Kim Boekbinder.)