“. . . to freeze a moment in time. . .”


“. . . to make sure I could see the images of trees, cars, and houses . . .”

Recently I was walking around my neighborhood after sunset but before the darkest night. As usual I carried my iPhone in my pocket. I carry it when I walk to use as my ID in case anything untoward should happen and―perhaps more important―to take pictures. I’ve become one of those millions of inveterate would-be photographers that smart phones have created.

I love the word “inveterate.” Its root means “to grow old” as in “veteran,” but its general use is to imply “habitual.” As I grow old(er) I become more and more intransigent in my habits, especially the annoying habits that are of little significance except that they are annoying.

One of those annoying habits is not writing in a straight line but interrupting my rhetorical flow, such as it is, with interjections and explanations that are probably neither interesting nor helpful to whatever “argument” I mean to make.

A few days ago I heard on the radio a travel writer―one who goes around the world and writes about his experiences so the rest of us can travel vicariously through his descriptions―claim that he does not carry a camera when he travels. He wants to think and write about what he sees rather than trying to freeze a sight or moment in time so he can relive the past by viewing his pictures. He said cameras make a person “intellectually and expressively lazy.”

Mea culpa. But I was intellectually and expressively lazy long before Steve Jobs and his associates invented the iPhone.

On my recent walk around the neighborhood I was trying to organize my thinking around the intriguing patterns of light created by streetlamps and lights in the windows of houses I passed, trying not to be intellectually and expressively lazy. I went about six blocks east on the main street of the neighborhood and turned south onto a residential street so quiet it almost seemed no one lived there. I gave in to the urge to take iPhone pictures in the dark, or not-quite-dark, of the artificially lit street. The fascinating patterns of light were more than I could resist trying to freeze in a moment of time.


“. . . I had passed a tree next to the sidewalk shadowed against the light of a streetlight . . .”

I took a couple of pictures and checked to make sure I could see the images of trees, cars, and houses in the phone’s photo app, that it had, in fact, taken pictures in the almost dark. A few yards back I had passed a tree next to the sidewalk shadowed against the light of a streetlight. I retraced my steps and took a picture of the pattern.

As I turned to continue down the street, I discovered the moon, about three-quarters full, familiar on a clear night―mid-way between horizon and zenith in the west, bright and warm, brilliantly white, a small slice of its upper left shaded, a few days into the waning phase.

I was spellbound. I felt as if I had never seen the moon before, as if it were a phenomenon that had just that moment appeared in the sky. For an instant I wondered, “What is that?”

Of course I recognized the moon, but the juxtaposition of the moon with the manufactured lights on the street, on which I had been concentrating and in which I had taken delight a few seconds before, startled me. My intellectual laziness, my attempt to find shapes and forms that pleased me rather than to see the world as it is, made possible a moment of surprise. “What is that?” The natural world impinged on my delight in the manmade world. Seeing the moon, really seeing the moon, on several occasions has given me pause.

My ophthalmologist told me the moon is the farthest object that we can see and focus our eyes on. I have a slight astigmatism, and seeing the moon singly rather than doubly, he says, is the best way to know that my glasses are doing their job. One of my favorite opera arias is Baby Doe’s “Silver Song” in Douglas Moore’s opera The Ballad of Baby Doe. “Gold is a fine thing for those who admire it, but silver, silver is the color of the moon.” I am fascinated by images of and writing about the moon.

However, my periodic “discovery” of the moon, unnerves me. The moon is impossibly distant, inaccessible to mankind except for a few astronauts. And yet, we can see it, we can study it, we can know a great deal about it. Every sighted human being has experienced the moon visually, but we cannot touch it. We can focus our eyes on it, but it is forever out of reach.

The moon is for me, when I see it, when I really see it, especially when I am looking for something else, the embodiment―can something so distant, something that I will never touch be an embodiment―of the mystery of my life. This is one of those moments I wish I had trained myself to think as a philosopher or write as poet. I am not, perhaps, expressively lazy, rather, expressively unskilled, unqualified, ineffectual. As I grow old(er), I want more and more to be able to describe my experience of the moon. Or, rather, my experience of the finite and the infinite.

No matter what words I think of, my writing seems sophomoric, even ridiculous.

The moon is finite (as is the earth and the sun and every other object in space). It will take a few billion years or so for it to crash into the earth or disintegrate on its own or be swallowed up in a great explosion of the sun. But it will cease to exist. Everything will in the form we know it. And yet, we see the moon month after month, and twelve men have walked there. Every Homo sapiens has seen it. Can we can say the moon is and it is not?

I am and I am not. Like the lights on Fairmont Street in Dallas, I exist. Like the lights I exist as a pattern, a form. Now you see it, now you don’t. In our experience, save for twelve of us, the moon is but a pattern, a silver light in the sky. The lights on Fairmont Street will burn out and can be replaced. In a billion years the moon will irreplaceably cease to exist. I will irreplaceably cease . . .   img_5731-copy