Sometimes, when the moon is full, I leave the blinds open and fall asleep with a laser beam of light falling through the window and puddling on the floor, blue-silver and shimmering like watered silk. When I wake up, the moon and its brilliance will have floated to the other side of the sky, the other side of the house, and, in the winter, at least, my bedroom is dark as a tomb.
So it is that I can't help being startled when my eyes slide open at the sound of the alarm to find not darkness, but a not-quite-moonbeam of light angling in the window. It takes only a moment to remember what I've read the day before about the alignment of five planets being visible just before dawn. One of them is trying to get my attention. I jump out of bed, throw on my robe and run to the front porch.
The computer-generated graphic that I saw indicating where in the sky I should look and where each planet would be in relation to the others included a line of bucolic silhouettes along the horizon - a barn, a horse, a shed, a house, a gazebo and, in the distance, a sailboat on a body of water of indeterminate size. It bears no resemblance to the horizon toward which I am looking, a straight line of pine trees, their pointy tops blurred in the darkness. It doesn't matter. It takes only a few seconds to find what I'm seeking.
Through my bare feet I feel the bricks that make the steps and the hard, straight valleys of mortar that run between them and hold them together. I hear the night-buzz that still hovers in the branch. And, by tilting my chin ever so slightly toward the sky, I see five planets - count them: one, two, three, four, five - five planets arced across the sky like a well-groomed eyebrow. Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, Jupiter - pulsing like stars, but closer, brighter.
If I count the planet upon which I am standing, I am in visual contact with six of the eight currently identified planets in the solar system. Eighty percent of all planetary structures in my celestial zip code are, at this very moment, within the range of my myopic sight. I draw in my breath. Hold it. Let it out slowly.
I expected - as I read about the alignment, as I thought about getting up to see it, as I hurried outside - that I would, in the presence of such vastness, feel small and insignificant; that I would, in considering that Saturn is 746 million miles away, recognize the irrelevance of my quotidian complaints. Instead, I stand in the presence of the ineffable and feel myself being enveloped by it. Like the solar system and the Milky Way beyond that, I am large and expansive.
I am the constellation whose name I do not know floating between Venus and Saturn, and I am the full moon that hovers off Jupiter's shoulder. I am the Indian tree frog everyone thought was extinct until I sang loudly enough to be heard. I am the missing booksellers in Hong Kong, the ones who sell banned books.
I am crying, tears of something deeper than emotion, and I am whispering, something like a prayer.
"What do I do with this?" I ask in amazement.
"What do I do with this?" I ask in gratitude.
"What do I do with this?" I ask in acknowledgment, creature inquiring of creation.
There is the faintest blush of pink on the horizon. In mere moments, the spell will be broken. Only it is no spell. It is not magic or sleight of hand, this cleaving of my heart, this spilling and refilling. It is what one buys when one pays attention - a bargain at any price.