Like most of the country, I saw the eclipse yesterday.
As I child, I remember the much less impressive annular eclipse from 1984 when I was 12. In that pre-internet era, it is hard to believe we heard about it at all, but we did. I remember watching the news – the TV news, the old people called it, as to separate it from the newspaper – and the cautions about not looking directly at it, but to use “smoked glass”.
I was out of school for the summer, and was outside playing when it happened. The sky grew gradually darker and I stopped, I remember, right by the lower garden and waited for it to be dark as night, but this wasn’t that type of eclipse. Still, it was amazing. I remember thinking how incredible this was – the interplaying of cosmic forces upon our lives, and how small I felt in the scope of it all.
Yesterday was like that, but more.
A friend gave Renee and I some glasses (we had originally planned on building a pinhole camera) and we stood in our front yard for an hour, watching the dark shadow move slowly from right to left across the sun. As it got closer to totality, the sky grew not just darker, but somehow softer. The temperature dropped some seven or eight degrees, and even the birds and animals shifted, somehow.
We live in an economically depressed neighborhood that often ignores pop culture events, but there were people in their front yards, looking up at the sky, some with pinhole cameras made from cereal boxes. The workmen from the house across the street a flipper is fixing up stopped, and came out to the front porch to smoke and watch the world grow dimmer. It was as if the world slowed down.
The line from the ancient liturgy ran through my head, “Let all mortal flesh keep silence…”
Since we were the only ones with glasses, people migrated to our yard and asked if they could borrow them to look for themselves. They were fascinated and one guy kept saying, over and over, “Man, that is some cool shit.”
It really was.
We don’t have many common experiences as people anymore. When I was younger, there were three channels on television, and odds were good that at least some of your friends watched the same show last night you did. The last episode of MASH was the most watched television show in history, and that was more than 30 years ago.
These days we are so individualistic. We have so many options, and can create lives that are filled with experiences designed just for us. We share few common experiences with the average person on the street. The term snowflake gets bandied around as a pejorative, but these days we are all snowflakes – individual and unique and special.
But yesterday, the US shared a common event. Political arguments were forgotten, the protests seemed far away, and even the weather acquiesced long enough for us to share this thing that is bigger than ourselves, this cosmic interference on our lives.
I found myself weeping in the minutes after maximum darkness. The coming together with neighbors in my front yard, the light changes, the near silence in my normally noisy neighborhood – all of it was overwhelming, and I sat on our porch and wept. I had seen the merest taste of what a united world could look like, and I wanted more of it.
Last night I stayed offline and read, still basking in the glow of the aftermath of the experience.
This morning I woke up and opened Facebook and saw the arguments were still going, people were still calling each other names, we are recommitting ourselves to war in Afghanistan and white supremacy is still going strong, and I deflated a little bit. I was happy to see an institution I admire make a public statement denouncing racism and white supremacy, and then accidentally looked at the comments, where the first one was from a white person wanting to know why they didn’t denounce black racists too…
It seems we still have a lot of work to do.