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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.