We were sitting on the little porch of a small apartment in Israel. Michael, my friends' 4-year-old son, and I looked at a full, shiny moon high up in the Middle Eastern sky.
"Is that the same moon we see at home in Englewood, N.J.?" Michael asked.
"Yes," I answered. "The same exact moon."
"But aren't we very far away from Englewood?" Michael continued. "It took us lots of hours on the plane to get here."
"Yes," I said. "We're almost 6,000 miles away."
"Then how could it be the same moon?" Michael's face was scrunched up in puzzlement.
It was obviously time for Michael's first astronomy lesson. We talked about how the earth rotates and the moon revolves around it. We talked about how very, very far away the moon is from Earth – 240,000 miles – no matter which country we have traveled to.
"Is that the same moon the astronauts walked on?" Michael wanted to know.
"The very same moon," I said. That idea was, indeed, quite awesome even from an adult's point of view.
Actually, for those astronauts, on their history-making lunar walk in 1969, things were kind of backward, I tried my best to explain in terms a 4-year-old could understand.
Back then, the three earthling pioneers looked from the moon to planet Earth, all those many miles away. But in any case, no matter what the "froms" and "to's," it was still the same moon each of them had first seen as tiny tots in Ohio (Neil Armstrong), New Jersey (Buzz Aldrin), and Rome (Michael Collins).
We discussed the wonderfulness of every single person in the world seeing the same silvery sphere or crescent at various times, depending on where they were on the globe. Michael was quiet for several long, thoughtful minutes as he gazed skyward.
"Is that all really true?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "It is really true."
Several years after that illuminating lesson, I found myself in another part of the world, far from home, sad, and lonely on a trip I had to make. One crisp, clear night, while walking back to my motel, I looked up at the sky. And there was the moon – shining with the very same lunar luminescence as in Englewood, N.J., from where I had come.
I thought about that long-ago conversation with Michael on the porch in Israel. How reassuring it had been for both of us to know that the same moon we all shared was safe in its place, up in the sky, perpetually orbiting around us, no matter where we were or what we did.
And somehow I didn't feel so lonely anymore.
All celestial bodies – planets, moons, and stars – continue on their perpetual paths, irrespective of earthly events, whether on an individual or a global scale.
It may sometimes seem, in some strange way, that their brightness must be dimmed or their movements slowed in response to great upheavals: loss and sorrow in one's own, small personal world or more large-scale events – catastrophes, wars, and terrorist attacks.
Yet, no matter what transpires, the heavenly lights remain lit and undeflected in their constant courses – over peaceful prairies and tumultuous battlefields; over each inhabitant of planet Earth; in Kabul, Kenya, or Kansas. Even in outer space. And in Englewood, N.J.
Yes, Michael, it's really true.