Six friends went to the grocery store just to get cheap peanut butter. It was national peanut butter day. I wanted to have a peanut butter fight, but my friends wisely talked me out of it. Something about “You’ll get peanut butter in your hair, and it will ruin your clothes, and when you try to wash it away, you’ll clog your drain and you won’t be able to shower for a week.” It is nice to have rational friends.
So instead, Addie made peanut butter cookies and Hannah and I worked to make fudge. As soon as I set the fudge in the fridge, I left to print some schoolwork. Someone said, “hi, Sarah,” as I opened the building’s door. I turned to reply, carrying on a conversation even though I couldn’t quite see who was greeting me. Halfway through the awkward relay, I gasped. “What?” the girl asked, and I figured out who she was. I gestured behind her and said, “THE MOON.”
I called the friends I’d left in my apartment. “Hello,” was the hesitant reply. It had only been a few minutes since I’d left and I could hear the timer for the cookies beeping in the background. “THE MOON!” I repeated, “You guys have to leave everything and come as fast as you can to the Front Circle. Hurry!!” I hung up and quickly skipped across the cobblestone.
It was a moment that didn’t belong in this world, but because it did, it reminded me that beauty abounds here. The moon shrank as I watched. I walked to the edge of the lawn and climbed upon the statue near the front of the school.
The swirls in the moon were a muted orange. The massive moon reminded me of a galaxy far far away. My friends finally arrived and were duly impressed. I knew life was great when one friend remarked, “That’s no moon.”
The cold soon rushed us back inside to continue our peanut butter festivities, but the memory of the moon lingered.
The same moon looked over a bizarre land of transition: America at the turn of a century. In the late 19th century, skyscrapers were being built with horse and carriage technology. The world was changing so quickly that even changes could barely keep up. New York City bulged with too many people and such overwhelming hope. A bridge was needed. The bridge would be the tallest and strongest structure in North America.
The very concept of a bridge marks transition. The idea that people needed to be moved from one way of life to another signified something deeper than a simple morning commute. Our country crossed very literally over from what it had been to what it would be with the building of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Tragedy laced the building of the engineering feat. The master of bridge design, John A. Roebling, set out to design the amazing structure. On the work site one day, a ferry hit the place he stood, he fell, and three weeks later died of tetanus. The impossibility of constructing such a monument to connection fell to his thirty-two-year-old son, Washington. Like his father, Washington was involved and injured on the work site. The paralyzed young man watched the progress with binoculars while his wife, Emily, took over the family’s bridge building business. Some say she was the first female field engineer.
The bridge remains an image of industrial beauty today, but in the process of being built, at least twenty workers were killed. Counts range in number as some people might have just fallen to their end, unnoticed, from the blooming bridge’s heights. Thick in the era of political machines, millions of dollars were swindled through the building process.
But the many deaths and thefts did not stop the city from celebrating when the bridge was finished. President Chester Arthur and Governor Cleveland led the procession across the bridge, meeting Emily Roebling on the other side. Speeches and feasts lasted through the day; businesses closed in celebration. People stood higher than they had ever stood, looking down to see seagulls flying beneath them. New Yorkers saw the strange city in which they lived from a different perspective. The celebration ended with the largest fireworks show the country had ever seen. Five-hundred rockets were shot for the grand finale.
The bridge was open, and the bridge was used. On Memorial Day in 1883, the usual 20,000 people were crossing the bridge. A woman walking down the narrow staircase tripped, and someone yelled “the bridge is sinking.” Panic ensued. Onlookers from below wondered at the black cloud floating from the bridge. The cloud of lost overcoats and top hats paled in comparison to the tragedy of human cost. Twelve people were trampled to death in the panicked stampede.
The next year, P.T Barnum herded twenty-one elephants across the bridge, reminding the world of celebration and that the weight of change would be supported even after the tragedies. The bridge wouldn’t sink under elephants—surely it wouldn’t sink under the weight of humans.
Progress hurts. Change comes with some negative side effects. I’m living in the bridge days. My moon is shrinking.
There are moon chasing, peanut butter sculpting moments when this giddy fear stirs deep within and I want to bottle up the moments. I get into this introspective, tea-drinking mood and then I list every good thing in my life right now. This shouldn’t be bad, in fact listing blessings is a good way to remain thankful, but then the worries start to crowd the pleasant thoughts. ‘In 99 days, I’ll gradate, and all this goodness will disappear,’ I think to myself. In a few months, I’ll know if I have been accepted or rejected to my future. And I miss a moment because of the fear of missing the moment.
I wonder if life will always be like this. It is certainly a lesson I’ve learned (and written about) too many times already. And here I am, staring at a tilting world and forgetting everything I know.
One of the items on the (horrible) “things I better cherish now because soon they’ll all be gone” list is a class called “Medieval Women Mystics.” One of these wise women, Clare of Assisi, wrote,
“What you hold, may you always hold.
What you do, may you always do.
Never abandon it.
With the swiftest, lightest steps
that stir no dust,
and on feet that don’t stumble,
may you walk securely into the future
with joy and speed
along the path of wisdom, happy.
May your steps be practical and sure,
as the Spirit of the Lord calls you.”
Clare was born to the wealthy Count of Sasso-Rosso in 1194. At eighteen years old, she was inspired to dedicate her life to God. Because her family so violently opposed her decision, she fled everything she knew through the medieval death door. Clare knew about change.
The morning after I had called my friends to see the moon, I walked the familiar path to classes. I crossed the little bridge outside my apartment and looked to the sunrise. There, I saw the moon. Slightly hidden behind pink clouds and the orange glow of the rising sun, the moon’s glory shone in a different way. But it was there, the color of daytime clouds instead of midnight embers.
From moonrise to sunset, I’ll watch my world change. I hold the truth of God in my heart, and that I will always hold. What do I do, that I’ll always do? I chase peanut butter moons, I embrace bizarre histories, I contemplate too deeply the paths of the future, and I see God’s grace as the Spirit of the Lord calls me again and again—the promise of hope drowning out fear’s threats with His voice and in His love.