My love will always light your path
And guide you to the moon and back.
It greets you at the break of day
And whispers from the milky way.
- Sue Shanahan, Love You to the Moon & Back (2012)
The first time I heard the phrase, "I love you to the moon and back" was in the 1990s while watching "The Rosie O'Donnell Show." Rosie's son, Parker, had exclaimed it to her when she was tucking him in bed the night before. She thought it was the cutest thing she'd ever heard and had to share it with the world. I don't know if this term of endearment originated with her son, but as an artist, I couldn't get the imagery of it out of my mind.
"I love you to the moon and back." Hmmm, what would that look like? Would the moon be crescent shaped or full? And how does one get to the moon and back? On an airplane? A rocket ship? Or does one simply sprout wings and fly? And who would go to all of that trouble to declare their love anyway?
Soon, the answers began to materialize in my head. It's wonderful to have an imagination. Right off the bat, I knew a boy should be included in the illustration because I'd first heard the expression from Parker O'Donnell. I adored my great-nephew Matt and thought he'd be the perfect subject to base my art on. As the image in my mind's eye came into focus, I began to make out a little boy riding on a missile to a wise, retro Man in the Moon. Voila! I couldn't wait to begin.
When Matt's mom brought him over for me to photograph, I thought I was prepared. I had my son Brian ready to stand in for the missile by getting down on all fours. His mom would set a pajama-clad Matt on his back and I would snap away. I don't know what I was thinking. How could I have forgotten what a wild child my great-nephew was? I literally only had time to take one shot of Matt before he insisted (and I do mean insisted) on climbing off of Brian's back. He was done. But that one shot was all I needed. It turned out to be the perfect photo reference to create the lyrical feel I was looking for in my drawing. The creative process is mystical. It has a mind of its own. When I don't push but instead allow it to come into being, a thing of wonder always emerges.
Creativity is hard to define, but its presence is always felt. It's no accident that it is a derivative of the word Creator. It accesses an energy field that is part of the Divine. What other force could make something out of nothing?
And it's the same way with love. Although it's invisible, its effects are always seen. Love takes the puzzle pieces strewn across the floor and puts them together to make something beautiful and whole. Its spark lights our paths. It fills in the holes and gaps. And it's what inspires a child to say the words a mother will hold dear all the days of her life.
The glimpse of Matt I caught on film.