The other day I saw a beautiful twilight moon. This was in the morning twilight. I suspect many people don’t realize that twilight comes twice a day. Twilight is when dayglow either begins or ends but either before or after the sun itself is visible. Most people are familiar with evening twilight since they stay awake until after dark. Morning twilight, so full of hope, is beautiful to the point of being painful. The other day it was twilight as work was starting—the days are beginning to lengthen since I’ve been starting work in the dark for months now. A waning gibbous moon shown through a gauzy cloud cover in an indigo sky. It was very cold outside, so I went to the window to take a picture with my phone.
The modern phone camera often misses the point. I zoomed in on the moon—phone cameras are wide-angle, by default—and it kept sliding in and out of focus. The sky was getting lighter by the second, and I was losing the opportune moment. I tried moving the phone closer to the glass, then back a little. Still out of focus. Then I realized what was happening. My phone was focusing on the dirt specks on the window. (Hey, it’s winter, hardly the time to be out with the squeegee.) It occurred to me that a life lesson was being offered.
Thich Nhat Hanh recently died. He was a Zen Buddhist master, and his passing reminded me of the old Buddhist saying that the Buddha is not the moon but rather the hand pointing at the moon. Religions often confuse the hand pointing for the truly sublime realm to which it points. Worshipping the person instead of following her or his teachings is a standard feature of religions worldwide. It is the reason for much of religious conflict. Those who worship the figure soon come up with their own teachings that are unrecognizable when held up next to those of the departed leader. They focus on the window, not the glowing moon beyond. The sky was growing too light to capture the image that had struck me. The moon was blurry in a way that my eye hadn’t experienced it. The moment of teaching was past. The lesson was over. The best that I could do was spend a long day working then try to recapture a moment that had occurred in twilight.