Clear evenings are rare in Philadelphia in January, but we managed to get one two nights after the full moon. The moon was especially bright as it rose steadily over the horizon, outshining the sparkling lights in the night that boasted of the city’s prosperity. On clear nights like this, my bedroom window has a wonderful view of the lights and the moon, and it is on this windowsill that Katniss the cat chose to perch and watch. The moon, the lights, and the furry form of my little friend formed a scene both quiet and joyful, and exists now as a treasured picture stored in my heart.
Last year around this time, I was midway through my grad school interviews. On the morning of the last Chinese New Year I was on Skype with the Purdue admission office, snuggled in the corner of PMU with Starbucks latte and banana walnut bread. It was a snowy morning not unlike this morning, and I’d forgotten my headphones. As a result, the interview was played out loud for all who cared to listen, and one day later, I received my first grad school offer. Sigh of relief.
Like the Purdue admission, there’s a little of something that stayed with me from all six grad school interviews. The blizzard at UChicago, the smoothie at Washington St. Louis (and the bald professor who studied balding rats), the white tower at Cornell with the many bells, and the perfect, bright, round moon that hovered over castle pinnacles at UPenn.
The evening I moved to Philadelphia was another night of the full moon. It shone steadily in front of me as if a guide and companion as I sat in the car, heading ever more eastwards. And so, because I’ve always loved the moon, I started to love this city of the Moon.
Chinese people have sat and watched the moon for generation upon generation, century upon century, until no one can count the poems that have been uttered, the longing that have been expressed. Moons that rose over oceans and deserts, moons that waxed and waned, moons that lighted a traveler’s dreams and lit a traveler’s tears, moons that changed but remained forever unchanged, moons that sang of loved ones parted. Many moons across the ages, yet the same. The same moon that lingered over battlegrounds now touches a child’s dreams, the same moon that gave way to fugitives headed for freedom now observes highways and bridges. It watches, but it is quiet. And that quietness wields power.
If Neil Armstrong had never made it to the moon and taken that proud little step, then maybe we’d still believe that on the moon lives a lady with silk dresses flowing, queen of a grand palace yet solitary in her domain except for her pet rabbit. If we’d never known the moon is a cold and harsh place unfit for life, maybe we’d still believe the shadows on the surface to be a mournful woodsman that hacks away at the lone tree night after night. The mysteries, the myths, the magic, all so strong, all so rich, deep inside us. Now science gives us pictures and offers us the harsh truth. Our heads are instead filled with numbers, mass, periods, angular velocities, useful, yes, but empty, stale.
And so the moon waxes and wanes, twisting my emotions with the slightest tug, so that one glance up in the sky can fill me with a tide of loneliness or hit me with a pang of longing. These emotions were built up and sedimented in a race of people for 5000 years, passed down generation by generation, by blood, by art, by will.
Katniss the cat has a grace about her that reminds me of the moon. Clean, pure, and gentle. And she, like the moon, tugs at my heart with the slightest move. While the moon draws upon lines and scenes stored in my mind, Katniss draws upon something stored in my heart. Love. Trust. Reliance.
I’d never believed that a cat could win me over so quickly. I’d always taken pride in being a dog-person. I need the running, leaping, licking excitement that belongs to a dog. A cat is simply too quiet, too dangerous, too independent. But Katniss, in her quiet way, is like a moon goddess, so that sometimes when I sit on the windowsill with her, running my hand through her long fur and looking up at the moon, I wonder if her real home is up there. Sometimes she’d move a little closer, and nudge her furry little head against my arm, or simply hold it there, being still, and enjoying the closeness of being together. Other times she’d pick a comfortable spot where she knows I can see her, and curl up, ball-shaped, fluffy, looking utterly at ease and indifferent. Her ears, her arched back, her swishing tail, makes it almost impossible to concentrate. And of course, she naps in bizarre positions with her feet in the air, and the white fur on her tummy clean and bristling when an occasional breeze comes through the window.
At night Katniss shares a corner of my bed, and it is there that she offers me the most comfort. The assurance of waking in the middle of the night and seeing her little form next to me settles my heart better than anything else. The thought that without her, I’d wake to an empty apartment, scares me. Her quiet presence warms me; her dear little face calms me.
And so, it is Katniss that welcomes me at the door as I come in half-frozen, and bend to touch her head. It is Katniss that dozes behind me on the bed while I work and study. It is Katniss that listen to my phone calls and share my contentment. And it is Katniss that sits quietly by my side as I look out at the lights and the moon. She alone knows me, knows how I live and work. She alone knows my struggles and my joys. Being young together, being alive together, relying on each other, has bonded us.
As we sit together and watch the moon together tonight, and every night, we wonder what the moon has seen, and what it will see. We wonder when our lives will change, and whether we’ll like it. We wonder, and we dream, and we entrust it to the moon, the faithful guardian of the dreams of girls and cats for ages past, and for ages to come.