The day before:
Everyone was talking about the roads, all day. Reports running up and down every news source on how it was expected to be the worst day of traffic history. My phone lit up in my pocket, messages of people looking for glasses as if they were necessary for survival.
The eclipse, the phenomenon my Mom had always talked about since it swept her skies in her junior year of high school. It had been a year since I had first heard it was coming myself, before the world went wild, before eclipse glasses were being sold on the streets for $30 a piece, before the interstate was blocked as early as Sunday morning. Where had the time gone?
There had been plans to travel far but those plans had turned into wonderings – was two minutes of totality worth an entire day of driving? Of course it would be, if it hadn’t been our last day.
Moving boxes, among other piles, had been filling up spare spaces for a while now. Change was inevitable, and had been for nearly nine months, ever since the wintertime, ever since New Years. Change that held promise, but was creeping up in a way that was unfamiliar.
The past year had been making familiar out of unfamiliar: getting used to certain brick buildings and crowded walkways, getting used to faces and stories they held, getting used to writing longer essays and carrying heavier books. The past year, ever since last August, when I first heard about the eclipse, and I first wrote about space; life before a year of calculating light years and studying eclipses by lights and objects in labs. Then came the summer, a whole summer abroad, driving down mountain roads, getting used to feeling the mass of darkness and the mass of a greater Glory; a summer of learning, of being changed, and coming home to nothing at all the same (inside and around). And now here we were, my parents driving five hours to their new home, and a second year starting for me.
That’s why a whole day seemed to take up more than a simple sum of 24 hours. A day just for the eclipse, just for driving, seemed a sum of certain eternities.
One year ago, last week:
Freshman year, the first week, and there I was writing about space. A book on my lap, full of thoughts about a universe and what space travel means (or if it means anything anymore). The subject of my essay: magnificent desolation, the two words Buzz Aldrin spoke of when he stepped onto the moon’s cold surface for the first time.
That’s how it all felt that summer, something mighty and something terrifying. A large mass of everything that could be twisted into poetry or be looked at as darkness. What waited, when the leaves turned from fresh and hopeful? What was lurking, there, in the coming shorter days? It felt horrifying, vast, unknown. Desolation.
The first day, my professor looked out to the group of students: Astronomy 151, a white room, kids wearing NASA t-shirts.
“There’s going to be a solar eclipse, a total one, this time next year, make plans to drive somewhere,” he said before syllabuses were passed out, before we talked about the sky.
Space was humbling, he said. The sky is humbling when you look at it, when you think about how it’s all so vast, how we’re always moving, how the stars we trace into constellations are always exploding light years away.
Plans, go ahead and make your plans, he had said. I imagined driving, somewhere. Quilts stuffed in a car, the windows open, driving somewhere to see the sky turn dark. But a year was long enough to make plans. There would be an autumn soon enough, followed by a winter, followed by a spring, followed by a hot, long summer. All of that would be days upon days, full of hours all to plan something, somewhere. I could imagine it then: the sky growing darker, our voices mumbling. So much time. Magnificence.
The day of:
9:05: Today, I woke up to light streaming through the windows and the day felt weighty.
There had been the plans but the traffic talk kept going. We made new plans in the morning, to drive up to the Church, to watch it all unfold on the top of the hill. A ten minute drive, a few hours of a day, not twenty four hours. That would be enough, we told ourselves.
Everyone was still talking about the traffic.
Everyone was talking about the end times, the signs in the sky regarding prophecies, as if solar eclipses were new, as if the world was never tinted by darkness. “This is the first time an eclipse has swept over just America, and the whole if it, so surely it means something,” I read on several occasions. If only America was the only country, I laughed to myself, if only this meant something because of it being in America.
1:04: We arrived, looking out from the safety of the grassy hill, looking to the neighborhoods below. Glasses beheld eyes to see the sun overlapped with a sliver of moon. You cannot see the moon in the light, yet there it, a piece bitten off the sun growing larger seemingly by five minute increments.
It was hot, not yet cool, so we ate watermelon, oranges, and various drinks (only ones with ‘sun’ somewhere in the title, my Dad’s doing) and hid in the shadows, while keeping eyes visible to the sun.
“I never realized how we never look at the sun,” my brother said. You don’t realize, until a day as today.
2:30: “LOOK, no not even at the sun, look behind!” The sun was setting, the sky was pink – the lights of the houses below were twinkling. Everything was lost in a shadow that passed over us all, yet there was nothing above – only the celestial, only the most ordinary. The crickets started up, for nothing indicated such a change, except for night.
And there it was: what everyone had marveled at, why people had rambled about traffic and bought thousands of dollars worth of t-shirts months in advance. All the talk that I once had been the first to share to people, after that first Astronomy lecture, and yet eventually had gotten tired of even thinking about myself.
I looked at everyone. I looked at myself, and my feet were running. We were all lost: lost in the sky, lost in something.
The darkness lasted for but a moment, and that moment seemed longer than the twenty four hours that seemed too long to waste.
You see the world dip into nothing, a ring of light remaining, and the light peaking out is illuminated by the darkness, and then the light is gone. The light is then within: you notice it is among the children’s voices, among the words that escape our mouths we forget soon after. The light suddenly is all around, again, no longer only voices, no longer nonsensical, no longer hidden by shadows and sunset.
There is much present darkness, and many incredible things: such a moment is no different, yet I do think it’s the rarity of it all. If perhaps, only once in 40 years the earth swallowed the sun in the golden rays of sunset, we’d rejoice over that too. We’d be crammed in parks, piled in groups of gathered camping chairs, we’d be looking up. We would marvel. Then we would back up our chairs, get back on the interstate, and resume.
A whole year, where things had been unfamiliar and now here we were again, another August, and it was over. Something new was beginning, for I could hear others talking through the next one – seven years from now. What would be the sum of the days, the hours, that would fill not one year – but seven? Many winters, many New Years. Surely, I would be faced with change again, a different change. Many Augusts to come and to go, and many lengths of darkness. A God, up in the heavens, who gives up darkness so we may see the light inside of us – even if just for 40 seconds.
Was it worth a day? Perhaps not. Yes, it was worth something, that minute: it was our own plan in our own place, down the road, our own sum of hours. I think back to that essay, back to the concept of magnificent desolation, of this life and the bulk of it among the changing seasons, the changing skies, the light among our darkness.
A good, good last day.