To the Moon
Years ago, I was relaxing in my favorite armchair one afternoon, and Max, my oldest son, was playing on the floor at my feet. Max’s favorite toy at the time was a plastic garbage truck, but he could not find it. From my vantage, however, I could see it amongst a scrum of toys against the far wall, but I wasn’t about to leave the comfort of my chair to fetch it. “It’s right there,” I said, and pointed.
Max had only been on the planet about two years, but I could already glean in him the beginnings of a literalist. Glad that his daddy had found his beloved truck, he looked where he believed I was telling him he could find it: at my hand.
“No,” I repeated. “There.” This time I thrust my finger in the direction of the truck, but again, Max continued to stare at my hand, hoping, I suppose, the truck would soon appear in it. I then found myself in the unpredictable position of having to explain how to follow the invisible string from the tip of my finger to that which he desired.
I did not know it at the time, but this was probably my first lesson in the unique challenge of doing what it is I now love to do. If you ask a mathematician what 2 + 2 is, he will give you the answer “4” from his hand to yours. If you ask an engineer to build you a bridge, he will open his hand and from it you may take the blueprints.
My job, as both a writer and a teacher, is to point. That is all I can do. If I wrote a poem about the moon, you could stare at that poem your whole life and the moon would never emerge from between its words. But if the poem’s trajectory is accurate, you might follow it and discover the moon in the night sky of your imagination.
Likewise, the answers to the questions I am asked when I teach lie beyond my reach. Yet I can see them just the same. Some days I point more accurately than others, but no matter. Max, after all, would have eventually found the truck on his own. In this way writing has taught me that words, in fact, are nothing, and yet have the power to collapse the distance from a hand to the moon.
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