Tuesday, August 22, 2017

This Is Not an Article About the Eclipse

Ok, it is.  This is an article about the eclipse.  I'm sorry.  It's over, right?  We should just let it go.  Besides, there's going to be another one in just seven years, so what's the big deal?  Well, I would be willing to bet that anyone who saw totality on August 21, 2017 would tell you it's actually a huge deal.  I had a few thoughts on it (thoughts that were not science-y thoughts about the moon's alignment with the earth and such).  So without further ado...

Tales from Theclipse

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Mad props to Matthew Waller, who nailed this picture.
Chapter 1: Preparation

I heard there was going to be an eclipse visible in Georgia on August 21 back in February.  Since that's my birthday, I resolved immediately that my family and I should go see it, and I set about planning in that direction.  I set up lodging in advance.  I purchased the funny glasses in advance.  This was weird for me because I'm more often a last-minute kind of guy.

There were a number of people who, as the event approached, set about trying to find lodging only to discover that a million of their closest friends already had the same plans.  Then there were people paying ungodly sums for special 3D glasses (I mean, that's what they looked like to me) because they didn't buy them while they were $1.99 at Kroger.  [Yes, that's where I got mine and how much I paid.  I did check in with the NASA site to make sure my retinas and more importantly those of my family would not be fried over-medium by the end of the eclipse].

If you want to see the total eclipse, you need to do a little planning.  You don't have to go overboard or anything.  It's not mandatory that you set up the NASA live feed on your computer, and unless you're a dork like me it's not even critical that you know the contact times (eclipse start, totality start, totality end, and eclipse end).  Shoot.  You don't even need a camera.  Unless you want one.  Then you need one.  And you need a few other items...

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Like a solar filter made out of torn up glasses since you bought extra at Kroger
and your camera isn't really nice enough to put a filter on anyway.
PS Whose hand is that?  So nice looking.
Point is, you need to get yourself ready.  Be prepared.  Basic Boy Scout stuff is all.

Chapter 2: Patience

I had set an alarm to go off when the eclipse began.  [For those of you with an Android phone, it was "Argon," which I thought added nice ambiance to the event.]  We picked out our spot and got ready.  The alarm gently acknowledged that the eclipse was beginning.  I was so excited.  I whipped out my "You can totally look at the sun with these but geez don't do it too long because it's the freaking sun" stylish 3D glasses and peered into the inferno.  What I saw was...not mesmerizing.  Not at all.  It looked just like the sun I saw the first day I got the glasses when I looked up outside of Kroger.  WHERE'S MY SOLAR ECLIPSE?  Relax, brah.  It's coming.

Some things just take time to develop.  There are some things that, if you commit enough resources and mindfulness to it, you can hasten.  But there are other things over which you have absolutely no control.  Honestly there are more of the non-control things than the other kind.  I had something like 90 minutes to wait until totality would arrive.  Be cool, y'all.  It's coming.  And like so many things in life, it's worth every bit of the wait.

But it's more than that, too.  Don't wish that time away.  Like in that Adam Sandler movie with the remote where he fast forwards through stuff he doesn't want to do.  If we had missed the 90 minutes of the eclipse prior to totality, we'd have missed the eclipse shadows cast on the ground by the trees.  We'd have missed the gradual darkening...the bugs coming out [note on the preparation side of things: Lisa's suggestion that we use bug spray was pure genius].  We'd have miss some of those eclipse phases where the sun looked like the moon.

And we would have missed the knowitall dude up the hill who was explaining everything about eclipses to everyone around him when, as it turns out, he had never seen one either.  There's one in every crowd, I guess.

There's something about waiting that's important.  It's not wasted time.  Or at least it doesn't have to be.

3. Totality I: Choose Your Own Adventure

I have neither the space here nor the words to communicate what totality was like for me.  The sun and moon seemed close to me, not far away.  The color was kindof purple and white and rainbow, but to me it looked nothing like the pictures you see (which I know is stupid).  It was surreal.  Other people experienced it differently.  They saw it differently.  Or their primary focus was making sure they got a picture of it.  Or their primary focus was looking at all the people who looked funny looking up at it (I heard a couple of women talking about that as they walked by).  Probably at least one person was focused on his upcoming meeting with the little green space people who were certain to come down next.

Everyone experienced it differently, a unique combination of what they were expecting and how their senses perceived it.  That's true of a lot more than solar eclipses.

4. Totality II: There's Never Enough Time

Time flies when you're having fun, right?  Whether you are transfixed by the sun's corona, obsessed with trying to get a panoramic shot of the 360-degree horizon, worried about getting your picture with your friends, or...whatever else you had in mind...there isn't enough time to do it.

Time is that thing we can't get any more of.  That's why pastors will tell you if you want to see where you priorities really lie to take a look at your calendar (and your pocketbook of course, but since that doesn't go with what I'm writing here I'll just leave it out).  You can get more of a lot of things, but time is relentless and unforgiving.  When totality arrived, we had 1 minute and 40 seconds before the sun reappeared.  No extensions.  It reminded me of Kipling's assertion that part of being a "man" (a person?) is filling each unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run.

Again, that's true of a lot more than the seconds of totality in an eclipse.  What did you do with your last minute?  Was it worth it?  (Likely the answer is read this blog...and the answer may very well be that it isn't!)

In any event, the limited moments of totality stand as a reminder to live each minute, no, each second, to its fullest.  The sun is never more than a moment from coming back into view.

5. The Diamond Ring

I knew what the diamond ring was.  (In case you don't, it's pictured above.  It is what you see the last moment the sun is visible for totality and the first moment after).  I knew I wanted to see it.  I would love to have a picture of it on my camera.  I don't.

That was a conscious decision on my part.  I didn't want to be so focused on getting a picture that I didn't enjoy the moment.  It was absolutely spectacular.  You can look at the pictures if you want...they don't do it justice.  Truly.  Honestly I knew folks would get a picture of it (Matthew did!).  I could see a picture later.  I wouldn't be able to experience it first-hand again.  So I watched it.

Live in the moment.  I was there with my family on my birthday experiencing something transcendent.  All I have to remember it is my memory of it.  And my kids.  But that memory is vivid precisely because I was focused on the things that really matter to me.

6. The Sunrise

I really wanted the dark of totality to last a little longer, but most of the time that's not the case.  Most of the time, when we are overcome with darkness, we crave the light.  Sometimes we convince ourselves that the light is never coming back.  It sure can seem that way.  I don't mean to trivialize our tragedy.  Rather I mean to aggrandize the universe.  Nothing was going to stop that sunrise.  It was coming.

Like Tom Hanks said in Castaway.  Tomorrow the sun will rise...who knows what the tide will bring?  This is closely related to the first point about patience, actually.  We fixate on our own perception of time, but our timetables don't govern the universe.  Friends, this is absolutely a good thing.  It's best not to fight it, but to learn to live comfortably inside it, knowing that what will be will be when it will be.  It's not that we don't have any power over anything...it's that we have power over us and little else.  Focusing our energy on managing our self is generally more fruitful than focusing on trying to make the sun rise sooner...or keeping it from rising for another minute.

7. The Getaway

This is going to seem antithetical to my assertion that you should live in the moment, and maybe it is, but still.  We left our viewing spot about 10 minutes after totality.  Hopped in the car and headed home.  By then it was considerably brighter.  The crickets had cut out their racket.  The eclipse wasn't over...Lisa and the kids kept their glasses handy and kept looking from the car windows.  But we were headed home.

Because we left early, we managed to avoid the massive delays that many people experienced coming back into town.  This reminds me that even when you are living in the moment you are still living in the world.  Finding some way to be mindful of that without wrecking your momentary experience isn't a bad idea.  I wish I could tell you how to do it.  In fact, I will aware 10,000 Cowden points (a lot of Cowden points) to someone who can give me a three-step process for maintaining mindfulness of the moment and the cosmos all at once.

8. I Guess That's About It

Those are just a few things I was thinking about yesterday and today.  Be prepared.  Be patient.  Be yourself.  Drink in the moment.  Focus on what matters.  Remember the sun will come out...tomorrow.  Remember you're still in the world...don't get lost.  Gosh, this is starting to sound like some epically boring commencement address from 2009 or something.  Sorry about that!

Oh, just one more thing.  I told the kids this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing.  This morning I said, "Remember when I said it was once in a lifetime?  Not quite true.  In 2024 we'll be heading to Arkansas to view an even bigger eclipse in the motherland."  Interestingly, that doesn't cheapen the experience we've already had together.  It may bring it into even sharper focus as we look toward 2024 with anticipation and experience...perhaps a reminder that even when we think we're completely out of chances...sometimes we still get one more.

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