Two weeks ago, as I walked along Riverside Drive with my two dogs, very early in the morning, I saw the Super Moon, huge and luminous and low over the horizon, lighting the Hudson and the Jersey towns on the other side of the river.
It was a blue moon — the second full moon in the month — and the eclipse (in ways that I don’t understand because I wish I were interested but, full disclosure, I’m not) turned the blue moon bright red. It hung low in the sky, as if the chain that could have held it further up were stretched by its vast weight.
It was stunning.
My dogs didn’t care. They went along, noses to the ground, smelling the apparently wondrous smells of frozen-and-then-slightly-thawing winter.
Many other people did care. There were many of them standing there, staring at the sky, taking pictures, staring through the occasional telescope, talking in low voices to small groups. There wasn’t exactly a crowd out there, but there were far more than the usual dog walkers, all staring out over New Jersey.
On Sunday night, I walked my dogs again. This time there was nothing going on outside. The Super Bowl was being played, and it was raining, so I seemed to have the entire length of Riverside Drive all to myself.
It was magic.
I live on the western edge of Manhattan, north of most of the action, south of Columbia, where it starts again. There are a lot of people who live there, true, but it’s never as crowded as the streets just a little bit south or east are. Still, to be entirely alone is unusual. It felt like that stretch of city was mine, just mine, purely mine.
The night was remarkably foggy. I could see the river glistening, but there was no moon and certainly no stars. I could see the shapes of the trees, leafless, contorted, stark, beautiful, and entirely mine.
I felt extraordinarily lucky.
And that made me think about immigration.
We are almost all the descendants of immigrants; we might have some native Americans among our readers, but I doubt there are many. Everyone else is the legatee of the adventurers, explorers, travelers, migrants, refugees, victims, victors, or slaves who made that journey.
There are probably almost as many reasons for that trip across the ocean (or more recently through the clouds) as there were people who made it, but no matter who they were, no matter where they came from, no matter how rich or poor or desperate they were, it took vast reserves of courage to do it.
I have no idea how my ancestors were brave enough to leave everything and everyone behind, to leave not only the colors and shapes of home, not only its smells and tastes, but even the sounds of its language, in favor of a something they didn’t know and couldn’t anticipate with any accuracy.
I don’t think I could have done it.
I remember a great-aunt who had hung a postcard of the Hungarian plains up in her kitchen; in her thick, rich, plummy accent, which always made me think of apricots and chocolate, she talked about the beauty of her home country, of the farm somewhere outside Buda — or was it Pesht? — where she had grown up. Would she talk about the trip? No. Did she want to go back? Also no. But she longed for its colors.
So as I walk alone with my dogs, in the freedom and beauty and mystery of my life in this country, which despite everything still is a haven, I hope that it continues to be so. I hope that we remember that we all come from immigrants, that our ancestors were not welcomed when they came here but despite that they fought for better lives and most of them won that fight, and that we never stop seeing the humanity in the immigrants who have come more recently.
Like our ancestors, these new immigrants also are brave, scared, and hopeful. I hope that we do not watch that hope be overtaken by despair. I hope that we remember that we, too, once were strangers.