Awe7 May 2015
When I was a young elementary school girl, my parents would take us to the local park to while away the long summer nights. There were mounds of green grass planted with rows of crabapple trees facing the grey flow of the East River with the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline in the distance. My brother and sister and I would lounge on the grass (careful not to step on any dog turds) and talk about this and that. Sometimes we’d roll race down the mound stopping just before the pavement. Or we’d climb the low trees with trunks that split into wide platforms almost like wide arms interlocking to create natural thrones we’d scramble to sit in as kings and queens. Other times we’d pluck the round small apples that looked so sweet to the eye but so sour to the taste and hurl them as missiles to those rolling below.
We’d look at the barges passing up and down the river especially the tug boats with the NYC Coast Guard logo that would pull what seemed miles and miles of containers of garbage and the old tires they would have hanging around their sides as bumper guards. To our right overhead we’d have the colossal bridge—so massive and so towering we would always wonder “what if it wasn’t strong enough and a giant monster truck ripped through a crack the structure and come toppling down on us?” We’d be crushed. “ And how come all those cars rushing by like a mad river so high in the sky didn’t ever take a bad swerve and fly off the bridge.” I would be filled with a sense of wonder lying down underneath the belly of that huge bridge on the grassy mound. The bolts the engineers had used on it were bigger than three men standing head to toe. The steel beams that straggled the diamond necklace of highway lights– they seemed to float with nothing but air and a long long distance under them. The bridge had one construction man boot on our side of the river and then way, way, way across the river in a place called Randalls Island it had its other boot. It was like an iron colossus straddling two continents.
Lying with my arms crossed under my neck smelling the sweet-souriness of the crabapple trees and the moist grass mixed with dessicating dog doo, I’d ponder about the massive wonder above me. I’d hear the incessant rumble of traffic overhead from the Triborough Bridge. That non-stop whishing of wheels and wind. I kept waiting for a lull in the flow—very rare. That flow that was constant punctuated by the rhythmic bu-bump-bu-bump of a heavy axle going over a steel strut bandaging the left lane. Wow! I thought people can accomplish a lot if they wanted to. The massive overpowering structure made me feel like the little ant crawling through the blades of grass that I’d spy making its way through the jungle of grass when I turned over on my right side.
But nothing could compare with the wonder we’d witness later on at night when we would play a game of dare each one lying side by side in decreasing order from oldest (me) to middle (my sister) to youngest (my brother). My father would leave us for hours to our own imaginings while he was heavy into his game of soccer in the playing fields in the middle of the park. He would be so involved in his game that the river would turn dark grey to brown and even black while the skyline faded into swirls of rose-gold pink and purple like the insides of the swirl pop we’d bite into from the Mr. Softee truck parked on the other side of the strip. When the Mr. Softee jingo would roundel in its carousel-like joyousness we would circle round our mother’s big breasts. She’d stash the roll of loose dollar bills in the crevice of her double-D bra cups as well as a pocket tissue packet and the car keys. By then it was dark. By the time we had devoured our soft vanilla cone with sprinkles and sandwich bars, the night had settled and the air had changed, a bit more cooler and damp like a mildly scented towelette. And then lying back on the same grassy mound, with the clank of the cars overhead and the bejeweled lights of the bridge, we would dare each other to look at the wide open night sky. With nothing to shield it from our view, it was just me and the limitless expanse of sky and the thousands and thousands of stars pricking through it. This vision of the night sky so immense and awesome it was terrifying. We’d stare and take it all in as much of it as we could before we’d shield our eyes with our arms. “Eeeeehhh!” I’d cry, “I can’t stand it. It’s too big and scary.” I’d peek again through my fingers and take in a bit more of the awesomeness until I could stand it no longer. It was like a game of who could hold his breath the longest without giving in. Who could stand to take in such awesomeness such grandness such majesty before he would be overwhelmed by the sense of dread and awe that he’d cower behind his puny little arms and look away?
There was something in the night sky in all its splendor and hugeness that would frighten a small child. Even now as an adult, I have a hard time taking in the beauty of the night sky without faltering from its hugeness. I think it is a combination of the realization of my own puniness next to the grandness of God’s immense universe. And to think, the night sky is there before us day after day after day and we go about our business,very content and sure of ourselves, lost in the underbrush of self-importance like the little ants at my elbow. To this day, nothing takes my breath away as the universe in all its glory. And from what I read about astrophysics and quantum theory what we can detect with our naked eyes is just a drop in the bucket of a greater ever-unfolding universe and worlds within that universe.
Awe—it’s like a vanilla-chocolate swirl of fear, wonder, and mind-bonglement all at once. The open night sky is just a garment, a small square napkin in God’s lap. How much more wondrous God must be! We won’t ever be able to understand; we, like ants, hardly aware of the massive bridge overhead with the marvel of man’s hands and his channeling of the laws of nature to do his work. How more ignorant are we of the world that lies far beyond what we see on an everyday basis. It makes your knees quake and your head spin. We are not made to grasp the fullness of God’s glory. How if I cannot bear to look up into the night sky for more than twenty seconds will I be ready to meet my Maker when I die?
Oh mystery of mysteries! How wondrous are thy works oh Lord!