There are people standing all around me. Everyone has their heads tilted back wearing paper framed glasses as though there is some sort of 3-D movie happening in the sky. Well, there is. Sort of. They’re watching a total solar eclipse. I can’t see the horizon from here, but I imagine it is a pale orange or peach color. I don’t know. It’s just what I imagine. It’s still getting darker and a few stars have blinked into view. They aren’t summer stars, they are winter stars. Stars from a January night.
I look up myself. I’m wearing the same paper rimmed eclipse glasses. Totality is about to be achieved. Almost. Not quite. More stars and then an odd blip. The disk of the sun seems to be completely covered when the Diamond Ring appears. It is truly spectacular. Then, in the hush inside me, despite the chattering and racket from the people around me, I realize that no words can convey what I am experiencing. Ellie Arroway is right, “they should have sent a poet.” But, I am a poet. I like to think I am at least. Maybe not good enough, though. And, with the justice that accompanies the finest crafted verse, the crowd falls silent. The dome overhead is dotted with lovely jewels. A cool breeze whispers across the witnesses to this sacred event. Some point to indistinct locations above. The sky is indigo, it is Prussian Blue. The disk is black, the corona is blinding white.
The oddest thing is the simultaneous speeding up and slowing down of time. I don’t know which it is because the “now” of the event has already passed into the time before now and my attention wants to go to this thought that “now” is an illusion and only the past exists. It opposes my long held notion that “now” is the only thing that truly is and the past and the future are both illusions. But the event in the heavens nudges me back. Back. I think I should lay on my back and then I would imagine that, instead of looking up into the sky I would be looking out into space. That seems a more appropriate orientation. It would be a far more comfortable position, that is for sure.
A searing light streams from the stern of the Moon and totality has been dragged into history. Time is definitely speeding up now. The hush of the crowd is gone. The suspended individuality has been lost. The stars sheepishly retreat into the brightening sky. It is over.
What was that? Two? Three minutes? I can look it up to find the official count.
I am already thinking about what this has done to me. Am I different? Have I been changed? Is the world different? Am I different? Did millions of people across America drop their differences for those few minutes and collectively appreciate the wonders, the beauties, the astounding qualities of nature? Did the Universal Spirit speak to someone during the blessed darkness? Was it a sign to someone? Did someone see God in the umbra that swept in a massive arc across the continent? Were children born at the exact moment of totality? How many people died? Did they die naturally, or by their own hand or at the hand of another? Will any effect that this had on anyone last? Or is it like any gift offered to a child; anticipated with rapture and longing, embraced in the moment, and then, after the present is received, the gesture, the meaning, the impact loses its importance until it swims with the other memories in the topographic oceans of our past? Nous sommes du soleil.
This did not, nor will it ever happen. I will not be in the path of the 2017 eclipse’s totality. I will not be wearing paper rimmed eclipse glasses and I will not witness the Diamond Ring, nor will I see the winter stars emerge for a few minutes of preternatural glory. Most of you will read these words after the event, but know that I am writing it before the moon encroaches on the solar disk. I will go outside at the appointed time and observe the crescent shadows on the ground and the partial darkening of the skies here in Sacramento. I’ll most likely say a mantra or prayer for humanity as the source of life and light is nibbled at by the sky dragon and then spat out as the superior heat scorches the heavenly beasts lips. But I will not witness to the pure and total eclipse. Neither will I chase it.
Just two months ago I was living in a place where the umbra will pass directly overhead. I lived in O’Fallon, Missouri, and many of my friends live in Columbia, which is directly in the path of the dark focus of the moon’s shadow. A variety of options for viewing, either by myself or in the company of friends and family were available. But I decided to move to California, and I did so without thought to the eclipse. I even went back to Missouri a week before the eclipse to pick up the rest of my stuff that I had stored in a U-Haul locker. If I had delayed by just seven days I could have been there for the Sun Swallowing, but that isn’t what happened.
I have been looking forward to the eclipse for over a year. It’s the kind of thing that interests me, the kind of thing that I normally would go out of my way to experience first hand. When I realized that I would not be in the right place at the right time I thought of driving north to Oregon and viewing the eclipse from a rest area along a highway, and then just reversing course back to Sacramento. It wouldn’t be a major trip. Oregon is a day’s drive. Easily done. But, no. I won’t. I’ve sat in silence and experienced pangs of emotion knowing I could miss this thing. Damn it, it’s going to be stupendous! It’s a once in a lifetime event. Why would I knowingly avoid it? It’s just a thing, right? No. It’s not just a thing. It is spiritual. It is nature singing from the core of its soul. It is scientific poetry. It is rare. It is a jewel that cannot be held, only beheld. And to behold this jewel one must be in the right place at the right time. I am not in the right place. Not the right place physically nor emotionally.
In March of this year it became clear to me that I wanted to be someplace else. Maybe I needed to be someplace else, I don’t know. I visited a friend of mine who lives at the edge of a forest in the foothills of a mountain range in California. The place and the people who inhabit it are exquisite, and being there, breathing the air and feeling the dirt beneath me caused an undeniable stirring of my spirit. The ball started to roll and I knew if I tried to slow it down its course would be altered. Stopping it never occurred to me. So I let it roll and take the lead. My friend and others did well to warn me of the pitfalls, the dangerous assumptions, misconceptions, and common errors made by many who are hypnotized by the shiny object that is the West Coast. After much discussion and soul searching I released the reigns, and the inertia transported me to Sacramento. It is as though I stood still and the earth moved beneath me. I may have leaned into the wind, but the time and place of my landing was all quite natural. That timing and location, though, payed no attention to the flight of the Moon.
Why is this something that has a hold on me? I liken it to finding out that my favorite band is going to give one last concert — ever, and it’s going to be right in my back yard, but I’ll be out of town on the day of the show. And then I realize, wow — it’s not my back yard anymore. To make this change that I have made in my life, I’ve had to give up things. I’ve had to rearrange the way I think. I’ve had to turn myself inside out and learn to love the mess that letting go releases. If entropy and chaos follow order, then perhaps a pattern can be seen in the form the disorder takes. By surrendering to this, I am discovering that my attention is sharpened. The poignancy of this celestial event and the knowledge that I will not be an active part of the massive orchestrated witnessing of it is not lost on me. I am acutely aware of it and that makes it even more special for me. I could subject myself to the crowded roadways, I could bemoan the lack of motel rooms along the way, I could fret over the dearth of eclipse glasses, or my inability to find an Eclipse 2017 t-shirt or ball cap. Or I could embrace the rush of beauty that my attention affords me and be happy with what I know, with where I am, and that I know when I am and why.
The direction I am facing when the Moon blocks out the Sun, whether I am here or there or anywhere in particular doesn’t matter. I will observe what I see, and I’ll see what I observe. I’ll hear others recount their experiences and be enthusiastically happy for them. I might feel a moment of regret for not having done things differently, but it won’t last long. I’ll know that I was aware of it all and I will know that I cared enough to consider the potential of the future, but I ultimately won’t be unhappy with the past that I consciously created. The only way the past is given life is by holding it in my mind, and when I do, that memory will be held with the pride of a parent.
©2017 Stuart Dummit All Rights Reserved