I wonder if humanity has loved anything as long as it has loved the moon.
“What of the sun,” one might quarrel, “or fire, or water?” The first is reliable; the second takes effort; the third, terrifying. Only the moon teases us, appearing bright enough to illuminate the earth one night and nearly vanishing within a few days. We yearn for her. The planet, our Mother Earth, is trapped in a lifelong dance with the moon; we ever twirling for her while she, tidally locked and in awe, never turns her face away as she waxes and wanes. We cannot say the same of the sun, or the planets, or the stars, each distant and irreverent of its standing with the earth.
Some mythologies present the sun and moon as siblings chasing one another across the sky: Selene and Helios, Igaluk and Malina, Sol and Mani. Others pose the two as star-crossed lovers, like Tolkien’s Arien and Tilion. But with our modern understanding of astronomy, we know better; we know the longest, most brutal love story is that between Mother Earth and her Moon, these two bodies that will waltz until our star envelops us.
We’re unique for a celestial couple in our system. At more than one-fourth our size, the moon is substantially larger than other moons relative to their planets; she’s generally large, more grand than the dwarf planet Pluto, though smaller than Saturn’s Titan and Jupiter’s Ganymede, Callisto, and Io.
She is so generous to us, so devout in her adoration. She pulls at our oceans, giving us deep and rapid tides, bringing fresh water and sea life and ease in travel. She holds our axial tilt nearly steady, allowing the hemispheres to experience seasons and more balanced cycles of light. She slows our rotation, leaving us luxuriant days to sleep and play and eat and love. The face we see is her most spirited and fascinating: a swirl of pale, cratered highlands around dark, gentle maria, presenting us images of a rabbit, a toad, a woman, a cook over a fire, pareidolia that enchant our beliefs and invigorate our passion.
What has Earth given her in return? The material of her being, most likely; billions of years ago, Earth and the theorized ancient planet Theia collided. In the explosive aftermath, bits of Theia became part of the earth, and distant debris of both planets coalesced into our moon. As Eve became of Adam, Earth’s lover grew from her own being.
Modern humans probe her. Governments send men to trample upon her, to leave prints in her dust and debris among her craters. We call her “the province of all mankind,” yet squabbles of humanity forsake the ancient love song, now promising to mine her depths rather than respect her as our communal, committed partner in this vast, boundless universe.
We have not always been so thoughtless. In religions the world around, humans have venerated—and in some places, continue to revere—the moon. Chang’e, we call her; Luna, iNyanga, Ratih, Coyolxauhqui. In science, we treat her with great care, each sample of her body guarded and celebrated, our experimentation seeking to understand her more deeply, to give her more abundant care than we think to provide for our own planet. We photograph her, sing about her, arrange to set our eyes upon her from opposite sides of the globe, allowing our closest celestial companion to connect us with humans who feel incomprehensibly further away.
Humans do not choose this partnership, but we are bound up in it, our whispering lives measuring mere breaths amid the cosmic romance we inhabit. We participate because we, too, are enchanted, awed by her splendor.