Face to Face

Maybe it’s because I was raised an atheist, but when I saw the total eclipse I burst into tears.

My anticipation had reached a fever pitch as we drove from New Mexico to the center of the path of totality in Wyoming. I had seen TV and newspaper coverage and understood that this was going to be a remarkable sight and well worth traveling for. As those of you who were not in the path of totality are probably sick of hearing, the total eclipse bears no relation to the partial. It is an entirely different experience. I was prepared for it, at least intellectually.

getting ready, looking at the partial

We arrived at a city park in Riverton in plenty of time, before the moon had begun its journey across the sun. With our special eclipse glasses we watched as the moon crept into view, taking the tiniest possible bite out of the upper right corner of the sun. It took over an hour for it to reach totality, and every minute my excitement mounted. The inevitability of it (science told me it was going to happen) and the suspense (what if it didn’t happen for whatever reason) were an almost unbearable combination.

it begins

There were others in the park with us, some local and some like us, each equipped with glasses and chairs, some with cameras, some with children, some with dogs. We chatted with a couple from Arizona and a man with a camera on a tripod and his mother from southern California. A group of four men who looked like classic Wyoming outdoorsmen sat on folding chairs under a canopy, playing cards on the top of an ice chest. They seemed oblivious to what was happening above and continued slapping down cards, reaching into their cooler and chatting out of my hearing. I wondered if they would notice the darkness of totality or if they would just reach over and turn on their Coleman lantern and keep playing.

on the verge of tears, with flash iphone

As the moon took larger and larger bites out of the sun the temperature dropped, the light became eerie, the birds fell silent. The wait was unbearable. The sun became a thin crescent and then a sliver and then the smallest sliver imaginable, and then the sliver was gone, and when we took off our glasses

totality, August 21, 2017

there it was, just as predicted, a black ball with a corona of light (gasses from the heat of the sun) surrounding it. As I was gasping and preparing to burst into tears, there were shouts from throughout the park, some actual words – usually invoking God – and some expressions of amazement. And from the foursome under the canopy I heard in unison a loud “Holy Shit!”

And as the moon moved on, uncovering the first glimpse of the sun, there was a giant cosmic wink — what they call the “diamond ring.” The city park shrieked.

the “diamond ring” as the moon moves away

As I said, I was intellectually prepared for the sight of the total eclipse, but in that moment my mind was completely overwhelmed by my heart which was filled with what I can only describe as Awe, with a capital “A.” I struggle to explain the impact it had on me. It was as if I was meeting my maker, a maker that brings light and warmth to the planet, a maker without whom there would be nothing here but lifeless rock. From birth we instinctively shield our eyes from the sun; its power keeps our gaze elsewhere. But here I was, eyes upward, and for the first time I was able to “meet” this life-giver, face to face. I was in Awe for the first time in my life.

I am grateful for this feeling and I imagine it is akin to what is felt by those who believe in a higher power as defined by a religion. We are here, alive, on this planet and that is some kind of miracle that I will never understand. But rather than rejecting God figures as I was taught to do, I can share in that Awe, thanks to the moon who covered the sun and allowed me to feel that awesome, indescribable, life-giving power….face to face.

10 thoughts on “Face to Face

  1. We had the same wonderful, euphoric experience. We saw it in Nebraska. You’re so right, worth every minute spent getting there! It was fantastic!!!! ❤️

  2. I am envious, Lucy. And those are beautiful photographs. The eclipse was in partial here but, even then, I didn’t have glasses and the old cardboard box trick did not work! But, for some time, the light changed outside. From a brilliant sunny day to a kind of twilight. The birds stopped singing. Everything became very still. Magical, in it’s own way, but no doubt, not the same as what you experienced at all. Myv.

  3. Beautiful comments about the power of Nature to awe and inspire. We had only about a 90% eclipse here in Virginia, but I was with a bunch of amateur Astronomers, so it was a wonderful experience here too because of the telescopes, and equipment they used. One of the most interesting was attaching a small telescope to the camera lens of a tablet, and being able to photo the eclipse on the tablet. Some people are so very inventive,

  4. A beautiful sharing of a profound experience, Lucy. While I missed this one, I traveled to Guadeloupe in February 1998 for that total solar eclipse. It was a mind-altering and life-changing event for me. I knew to look for the crescents in tree shadows, just out of totality, but did not know about the shadow bands, during totality, and thought I was hallucinating when I saw them. I only learned this summer that’s what they are called. Great pic of you and Roberto in your eclipse glasses!

    1. So glad you saw one and it sounds incredible. I didn’t know about the shadow bands til it was over, but was so stunned I don’t think I would have noticed.

  5. Wonderful story of your magical experience! I actually heard that Santa Fe/Albuquerque is close to the path of totality for 2024, which would be awesome, but maybe I’m wrong about that. I want to catch it wherever it is.

    1. You’ve got to see it. I don’t think it goes through NM in 2024. Comes up from Mexico and sweeps through Texas and up through Ohio or something like that.

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