Friday, March 6, 2009

Encountering John the Baptist on a crosstown bus

I was taking the two older girls sledding in Central Park, each of them with a friend from school. For us, that means taking the crosstown bus (at least until we move closer to the Park, a hope for next autumn!).

Several weeks ago my friend and former colleague Justin spoke about John the Baptist and what it would be like to meet a prophet today. With these four little kids in my charge, we had that experience on the bus.

A man with ragged beard, impossibly strange hat covered with odd buttons, clothes and hair in disorder, wearing one child's Spiderman glove, and asking loudly of everyone as he came down the aisle of the bus: "WHERE'S THE MOON? WHERE'S THE MOON?".

He came and sat amongst us and our toboggans. My first instinct was to move the children away, particularly those that didn't belong to me. But I figured two things: one, this guy hadn't done anything other than ask a strange question; and two, we had five seats together, which wasn't going to happen further up the bus!

It transpired that his question "WHERE'S THE MOON?" was based on the sculpture of the Earth outside the Time Warner Center on Columbus Circle (at the southwest end of Central Park for the readers from Europe, the Middle East, or New Jersey).

He was asking a question to provoke a question (as prophets do) in the mind of his hearers: "What do you mean, 'Where's the moon?'" My second daughter asked this question of him, and the prophet began to speak in very lucid terms indeed.

The 79th Street Crosstown Bus prophet had measured the size of the globe outside the Time Warner Center and calculated that the moon would be on 63rd Street and Central Park West. He explained that he was seeking planning permission from the Central Parks Conservancy for the task of putting a moon up with a sign, as a way to teach children the scale of the solar system.

The prophet was most impressed that my daughters and their friends could name all of the planets in the solar system. Someone even asked what school they attended...

Everyone on the back of the bus started to chip in with the fact that Pluto lost its status as a planet, but no one knew the name of the two new ones added in its place. It became a very jolly conversation as the prophet explained that the size of the galaxy would take us up to far Upstate New York (an impossible distance from the view of Manhattanites).

The man even helped the children un-wedge their sleds from the seats.

Now, I don't think every encounter with an odd man is going to go this way, but this one did. Neat to see what a little bit of interest in what someone had to say did in terms of opening things up. That was a child's initiative, not mine.