New York City is such an intense and captivating force that New Yorkers must all leave their beloved Gotham from time to time for areas more peaceful and serene, places where the air is cooler and the pace of things slower. City life is an immense trade-off. We have the greatest art and culture in the world but must endure great hardships, annoyances, and inconveniences. It’s this crucible that makes our standards so high and our quest for excellence so unforgiving.
These past few days have found me on Long Beach Island, New Jersey, a beautiful beach community that is best visited after Labor Day, when the summer season is considered officially over. Plenty of other people have had this idea also. So the island is not a ghost town but can look that way at times if you turn down one of the quieter streets. The restaurants are starting to board up for the fall and winter or have at least cut down their summer hours.
Long Beach Island is one long excuse to sit and marvel at the beach and ocean. It is a thin, string-bean like island that is geared towards renting to or selling to people coming here for the summer. It floods easily and the oncoming series of hurricanes that are lined up to punch the United States now are on the top of everyone’s mind.
While this end-of-summer escape is welcome, the travails of life remain. This time of year especially, the days around September 11, are times when we are reminded about the fleeting nature of our very existence and the fact that life commands us to enjoy every moment.
This awareness does not all have to come in tragic form. I formed a habit of quickly taking photos of the sand castles I help my children build, because before long one of my daughters will crush them quickly without hesitation. She is not yet four years old yet she is a destroyer of worlds. She has not yet grasped the value of leaving something behind that is beautiful in part because of its vulnerability. It is more fun for her to feel that collapse of the cool, wet sand under her feet.
Long Beach Island is a place where you will miss out if you don’t take the time to walk along the beach at night and enjoy the light of the moon reflecting on the ocean. It is where the best thing to do is to sit on the sand under an umbrella and attempt to clear your mind of everything. The beauty of the landscape belies the chaotic, violent, and tragic nature of our lives, which is why we seek to surround ourselves with beauty as much as possible. The world will hand us enough ugly all our lives.
In a few days my family will return to New York City, which has now been rebuilding for more than 16 years since the September 11 attacks. A whole new generation of New Yorkers are alive who did not know life before that day. Our responsibility, among many, is to give this generation an appreciation of all that we have given them as family and all that we have built as a people, because it could very easily not be here tomorrow.
City life has may rewards for those that embrace it but the sights of the city are star deprived. The intensity of our lights clouds our view of celestial bodies. We don’t get to see as many stars in the sky, the streetlamps, lights from office buildings and apartments, and neon signs conspire to hog the attention for themselves, telling the urban stargazer, “We should be enough for you.”
And so the moon provides the visual cue to wanderlust and anchors our heavenly gawking. The moon is closer and always there. It can be shrouded in clouds but it is never kept far from our vision. It follows us as we wander our metropolis and is always there to draw our eye in moments of poetic grandeur.
Because of the aforementioned light pollution, New York City is not a very good place to view our astronomical wonders. But the moon is an exception. Lunar events are very much visible to city dwellers. The light pollution doesn’t affect the moon the way it does the stars. There are plenty of other obstacles to good moon observation: buildings, trees, billboards and planes. Some of the best viewing space may be in the middle of busy streets or eerily deserted parks.
The moon is currently in a super moon phase, meaning that it appears larger and brighter than it normally does. On September 27 the super moon was eclipsed fully by the Earth, meaning that our planet moved in such a way as to block the glorious sunlight from reflecting off of the moon. Such a phenomenon will not occur again until 2033. The fully eclipsed moon will take on a reddish color, thus the “blood moon” or “blood super moon.”
Stepping outside my building in Queens, I encountered the usual street scene on a quiet Sunday night. There were maybe a few more people sitting on public benches along Union Street in Flushing where I live, but not the amount of people that this event deserved. That just made looking at the moon more enjoyable. And there it was, every bit as bright and glorious as I had hoped, it’s super bright surface already covered in shadow, and the shadow was spreading. In the few minutes I was outside, the eclipse progressed to the point that nearly half the moon was in shadow. I attempted to take a photo with it but my earthly camera phone could not do this phenomenal sight any justice.
The moon has a great effect on human life on earth. And why shouldn’t it? The stars that we gaze at may be dead already; their light may have burned out centuries ago. But the moon is always there, it is close by, and we’ve been there.
Here in Gotham, where brazen men plot to manipulate our world and drive the will of the Earth asunder, it is comforting to know that the skies will always have the last word, and that blood moons will reoccur to thrill poets and inspire a further appreciation of the beautiful violence of nature.