What is the big deal anyway!
Hard to tell, but this is a photo of complete darkness across the porch
My daughter filmed the eclipse, and sent me the video that same evening. She and her husband travelled to a small Tennessee town in the path of totality, hoping to enjoy the eclipse and yet to avoid the crowds congregating in larger cities. They sat under a large shade tree and met visitors from Ohio, New Jersey, New York and several other states, but the numbers of people were low. It seemed everyone sitting on the grass in the town center had made a point to be there at that time. As the sun disappeared I could hear cheers and shouts, the crowd was unabashedly enjoying the spectacle. The streetlights turned on, the insects roared and the sky faded to completely black. Just watching the video on my cellphone, I couldn’t help but smile at the enthusiasm. One woman yelled out, “I see a lightning bug,” and everyone in the park cheered and laughed. The joy of the moment was contagious, and I laughed as well.
In the days leading up to the eclipse I grew tired of all the hype from radio and TV, including all the social media coverage. We heard about the fears of traffic strangleholds bracketed with invitations to eclipse parties and eclipse festivals. I was torn between wanting to avoid the crazy crowds to wondering why such an awesome act of nature would need to be surrounded by concerts and promotions. I bought eclipse glasses, commemorative stamps, and an eclipse map, but scoffed at eclipse T-shirts. Radio broadcasts repeatedly warned us of the dangers of staring unprotected at the sun. We were told to move all pets indoors, and to close the curtains and blinds, just in case our dogs looked outside. Road signs on the highway remind us the date of the eclipse and warned us to “plan ahead.”
Warning signs on the highway
On the flip side to the ongoing frenzy, others developed a blasé attitude, sort of a “what is the big deal anyway” mindset. I had friends say they were planning on staying inside, maybe watching the eclipse on a live stream from NASA. Maybe they would look outside when it got dark, just to see. These comments were from people lucky enough to be in the path of totality, where the moon would block 99 – 100 % of the sun’s light.
Our son lives in Charleston, SC and we decided to visit him and enjoy the last sections of eclipse totality on its path across our country. Our son took a day off of work, like so many others in town. Schools were closed, government offices shut down early and traffic promised to be a nightmare from all the visitors expected into the city, although possible cloudy weather lowered those numbers.
The day before we were shopping in the local Walmart. In the time it took for me to try on 2 shirts and 2 pairs of shorts I heard at least 8 phone calls to the clerk working at the dressing area. Each call was answered the same way, “No, we are all out of eclipse glasses. I am so sorry.”
As we were leaving the store I passed employees giving the same reply all through the store. Between all the hype on the radio and TV, all the casual disinterest, every pair of glasses in town had been purchased.
We three, my husband, son and I walked out to the parking lot of the apartment on the day of the eclipse. It was hot and sunny so we would step out of the shade, don the glasses and stare at the sun, then retreat under a tree to cool off. How exciting it was the first time we could tell a sliver of the sun was darkened. Each time we looked, more of the sun had disappeared. Our two daughters texted from different locations and we all shared in the excitement together. Neighbors stepped outside as the black ball of the moon continued to swallow the sun.
Attempting to photograph the eclipse with the selfie mode
And then the storm clouds arrived
Sadly, we heard thunder and clouds began filling in the sky. Soon the sun was hidden behind thick clouds. With hope we kept looking up, until the lightning and light rain began. Soon though, we realized the falling darkness was deeper than any rain clouds could create. Our streetlights turned on, insects began singing and children ran in happy circles on the field. I remembered times when we were allowed to stay up late as children, and we ran around in the cool nighttime air. These kids were enjoying the strange darkness in the middle of the day, and not even the rain dampened their joy. After a few minutes the darkness lifted somewhat, the massive storm hit with thunder and lightning, and sideways falling rain.
A few days before someone had said to me, “It’s just an eclipse. I don’t know why people are so exited.” At that time I decided to just enjoy the moment, to not expect too much or too little, but to watch and feel and participate. I would enjoy with out expectation, and that is what I did. I was disappointed to not see the moment of totality, to not see the corona of the sun or the funny shaped shadows that would filter through the leaves, but I was also thrilled to experience the parts I did see, and the complete darkness and the lifting of that darkness.
And now I know, next time, I will again travel and take my chances with the weather, the traffic, and the forces of discouragement. What nature gives, I will enjoy!