Under a Full Moon: A Reflection of Our Shared Light and Life

Sep 10, 2021

With the approach of the Mid-Autumn Festival in a week or so, many who live in this part of the world may find their thoughts in an idle moment straying to reflect on this mercurial celestial body: our moon.

In the recorded history of humanity, the moon has been an object of fascination for many:  scientists, poets, romantics, or any one of us out for a night-time stroll. Setting aside the incalculable impact the moon has had on the physical environment of earth, it is impossible to imagine life without the presence of our nearest celestial neighbor. Born from a violent collision between two planetary objects, we have gained insights into the fundamental physical forces that drove the formation of our universe from the moon. Its hovering presence, tantalizingly close, has generated legends, myths, and beliefs; its close proximity famously inspired a feat of human courage and technological prowess through the brief chapter of lunar landings that started in July 1969.

Before the invention of more reliable and accurate measurements of the passage of time, it was the moon that gave humanity a common astronomical optical metronome, ticking away the months with graceful precision. Calendars, seasons, festivals, and religious observances were all founded on this peripatetic light in the night time sky. For some, even now in the 21st century, the Lunar Calendar lives on.

The human experience of the moon is largely driven by our perceptions of its most obvious feature: its light. Our lunar satellite, unlike the sun that shines down with unrelenting, ageless, and unwavering intensity when not obscured by cloud (or perhaps by the moon itself during the rare occurrence of an eclipse), is a reflector, borrowing light from another source. Its light is soft and pliable, gently refracted by the air and tinted with a palette of hues borrowed from the prevailing weather. Its Yin stands in stark contrast to the Yang of the sun.

From a human perspective, the moon appears to have cycles and moods; it drives tides and shapes winds, its light brings heart-warming illumination in times of darkness, the absolute darkness experienced in its absence induces fear and longing. The moon waxes and wanes, vanishes and reappears, and ‘once in a blue moon’ suddenly graces the night sky with a strikingly prominent presence.

The symbolic importance of the moon to humanity is almost impossible to overstate. In the quiet of the night, poets have gazed at the moon wistfully, thinking of others dear to us looking up at the same moon (靜夜思). By the soft light of the moon we have seen visions of things that are not, or dreamed of things of beauty that cannot survive in the harsh unforgiving light of day. Many a romance was first kindled under the blushing glow of the moon.

It is perhaps instructive to consider that while each of us looks out on a different landscape in the corner of the world we call ‘home’ at this time, we all look up at the same moon. At this point in human history when COVID has us separated, isolated, and perhaps alone in life’s journey, take some time on the night of the 21st to look up at the moon as Li Bai did so many centuries ago and think of those dear to you who are basking in the same moonlight.

Happy Mid-Autumn Festival!


Dr. Malcolm Pritchard

Head of School