Behind The Scenes Of My Big Beautiful Eclipse Day


stormtrooper eclipse glasses USA america

My schedule eclipsed my ability to write about the eclipse.

The experience though. It began in line before 6 a.m. in a Shoney’s parking lot. It ended with lots of thoughts and yet no time to write about them. It took equal parts cunning and patience to even get my hands on eclipse glasses for the family to share.

And I don’t know about you parents out there. I felt like we were tons more enthused about this whole event than the younger generation.

And that’s fine. I couldn’t wait for eclipse day when I was a kid. I was a dinosaur/space/NFL nerd then. (And now.) It felt like that pressure our parents put on us as kids when the Peanuts holiday specials came on because we MUST watch this!

Because of course.

The lead-up to the celestial event felt a bit apocalyptic waiting there at Shoney’s with a stranger. Waiting out the tension. That’s a bad sign when the fuss is over cardboard glasses and not baseball bats and barbed wire for a zombie apocalypse.

I held a spot in line for a man who turned out to be a preacher and that turned out to be one of the best decisions I made the entire eclipse day.

The quest for glasses

Indignant people in front and behind us berated the Shoney’s staff. They’d just been told the restaurant had given out all the glasses with purchase the day before. They still have some, Tony, my preacher friend said. And he asked me to join him at a table for two.

While in line, Pastor Tony and I had watched a man mysteriously produce a fist full of glasses and watched the horde of people stampede past us to buy them for $10 each.

I had no cash. I hardly had wiggle room on my debit card for a purchase but I’d do it to get glasses. Suddenly Tony and I were next in line to the restaurant after the fire sale on glasses. So we sat down and waited. And we talked football.

Our allegiance seemed like a cosmic convergence before the cosmic convergence.

Tony’s son had some youth football drama going on and asked my opinion on it as a dad and coach. We were fast friends. Our server knelt by our table and pretended to write an order. Instead she whispered I have extra glasses and don’t need ‘em. They’re yours.

We offered to pay for them and she refused. It wouldn’t be right to take money she said.

When all was said and done and only one irate man who’d already gotten two pairs and wanted more stalked the parking lot to rile new legions to bombard the manager Tony and I parted ways with two pairs of glasses each. The Pastor even picked up the check.

One last chance

It felt like the morning of the Super Bowl or just after learning that someone found an entire intact triceratops skull the day of the eclipse.

I didn’t want to do the math. I know there’s a chance this’ll be my last eclipse like this. So the girls painted their nails and generally lazed around as I pondered the sun’s ascension and the moon’s trajectory and what was going to happen for sure at 2:42 local time.

No one had thought to turn on the TV to see what totality looked like on the west coast until I did and we could see stadiums full of people and bunches of Kentuckians dressed as aliens.

So funny how it looked. I heard cheers rise up from out west as the moon seemed to click into place. It created for a moment a black sun with white rays and pushed dusk on the world in the middle of the afternoon.

The view through my own glasses so thoroughly kicked the ass of what we thought was cool back in 1977 in Colorado when some plaid-clad teacher poked a hole through a box and let us watch the eclipse on a sheet of construction player.

The sun was a brilliant orange disc and just on the right edge of it I saw the encroaching darkness of the moon warming up his pipes.

We came in to see the stadium full in Illinois willing the clouds to part so they could watch the black disc snap into place for an encore performance. And it did. And soon we’d go outside and see it for ourselves.

eclipse crescents
Crescents the sun threw on the rear passenger door to my new car. She hasn’t been named yet.

Tossing crescents

You guys know what happened next if you were in the path or close to it or watched on TV. The sky turned a fluky shade of who-knows-what. The sun tossed crescent-shaped shadows everywhere so that even without glasses the spectacle began.

How long can kids peer through funny glasses at a slow-moving spectacle though?

Not very. Even as near totality came over Charlotte and the fluky shades got flukier and crescents were everywhere the kids were unimpressed. That’s okay. After the mild attraction faded away I secured a pair of cardboard glasses across my face as sat alone.

There’s no harm in watching the eclipse this way so I vowed to see it through.

I’m sure I slept a bit and fell into a meditative state immediately. That’s when it felt most profound. That’s when I dreamed (or thought?) of the night in my childhood they told me all eight other planets would become visible in the same night sky.

I woke up at 4 with the delusion that I’d see saucer-sized representations of Venus and Jupiter and Pluto lined up like donuts on the baker’s shelf.

Instead my dad tried to point out where each planet sat. They looked pinholes of light to me even after the early morning bleariness dissipated. No more. No less. Still. I wasn’t disappointed. The planets I often daydreamed about all lined up in the sky for me.

And then as I felt peace wash over me I felt again like I was at my dad’s bedside.

A sorrowful peace

I saw and felt and thought so many things with my face fixed toward the heavens. I sat alone and at peace. A sorrowful peace that reminded me of the morning my sister and brother-in-law and stepmom sat by my dad’s bed after turning off the switch to wait.

His heart was so strong. That’s what the doctors told us.

My sister and I sat vigil with him the night before. We woke early the next day to see his vital signs diminishing. I knew soon he’d suffer no more. And that’s the peaceful sorrow (or sorrowful peace?) I felt with my face turned toward the moon and sun on eclipse day.

I watched the moon on the second half of its descent and considered a universe so calculated that it knew exactly the moment this would happen.

Does the universe know the precise moment other things will happen too? Or are answers shadowed like the dark side of the moon? Are the answers there for us to discover or to be hidden and impossible to find until they happen?

My father was 49 when he died and I’m 45 and that’s also math I didn’t care to do.

I recalled dream states that day with my dad. Seeing a vision of him riding a horse under ominous sky and into foreboding wind. At 12:30 p.m. he left us. And I drove away that steamy Durham day in total grief but also relief that dad had to fight no more.

The moon by this time had nearly passed through the sun.

Totality I’m sure approached down east in South Carolina. In Newberry and Charleston and other places I love. And just as the final sliver held fast to the edge of the sun I lowered my head and removed my glasses.

I’d seen enough. I walked back inside to my girls and whatever the universe felt next.

eclipse quote young ha

 

 

55 thoughts on “Behind The Scenes Of My Big Beautiful Eclipse Day

  1. One of the best Eclipse posts that I have read! Touching. Thank you! So sorry about your Dad, that is too young.

    Cool about the deal you got on the glasses! Yes, I believe my husband and I were more enthused than our kids as well! Our kids were upset that we didn’t take them to where we could see the full eclipse! I mean hey it was just a drive to the West Coast and we are on the East Coast, why not? 🙂

    1. Thank you! It all happened naturally that day and I’d struggled just with the time it took to write. I found that when I got to the keyboard, everything flowed just as naturally as that day.

      My dad ironically had gone to the doctor less than a year before he died. He wanted to get his health checked so he could enjoy the next phase of life.

      Totality wasn’t far from us but the traffic and volume of watchers would have been too much. I’d much rather see 96% in a deck chair on my porch than shoulder to shoulder with strangers.

      Plenty of time to plan for the next round, right?

      1. It seems that when our posts flow naturally they end up being our best ones. The pen just takes control! 🙂

        Wow about your Dad having gone to the Dr less than a year before. You just never know, do you. Ironically enough, a similar thing occurred with my brother. He had been to the Dr shortly before he died. Died only about 2 weeks before he was supposed to go back to the Dr. to have more tests done.

        I don’t blame you for not wanting to fight the traffic and sit shoulder to shoulder with strangers. And yes there is plenty of time for us to plan for the next round. 🙂

      2. Just go with the flow, right Joy? It’s a good feeling when it happens, and it’s a great feeling to read it when it happens to others.

        Dad just wanted to get stuff in order. As he was going through chemo, he told me that if he beat this, and it came back – he would opt to skip chemo.

        It’s that awful. So sorry to hear about your brother. Perplexing when we’re trying to cover our bases …

        I can’t wait for the next round. The corn moon is next, and that’s supposed to be something, too.

      3. Yes follow the flow of your heart and it can be so rewarding!

        Thanks for your care about my brother. Some things we will never understand, but as you said in the beginning. Its about going with.the flow. The flow of life can be very rough but can teach us things through those times as well.

        Yes, I heard about the corn moon. We don’t need special glasses for that. 🙂

  2. a beautiful piece for so many reasons, eli. i too, had a crazy glasses caper leading up to this big day. when the time finally came, i, and the others around me, were in awe.

    1. Thanks, Beth. I’d love to know your capers. I’ve heard of stories of greed and anger leading up to it (related usually to glasses) and then just awe as it approached and passed. Also togetherness.

  3. I really loved the parts about your Dad, Eli. I remember when my Dad passed away. I came home from school (I was 14) and my mum told me he’d gone. That was it. No goodbyes, no final thoughts, just…gone.

    1. Thanks, Lyn – the time I spent alone watching the end of the eclipse reminded me so much of that day he died, the exhaustion, the teetering between worlds and visions that come with it.

      I’m so sorry about your father ,too. I did get to say goodbye. And his final words to me on the phone before his final sickness was “I love you too.”

      1. Oh Kathy, I’m so sorry. It’s tough isn’t it – tougher I think when you’re a kid and it’s sudden and unexpected. You feel so lost.

  4. We only had a 50% eclipse here in Canadaland. We used welding lenses to view it. It did bring a sense of awe and wonder… Like you said, the kids weren’t as impressed as I was. We watched it anyway and the kids would check in every little while to see how much was covered. Another eclipse is scheduled for April 8, 2024 and it comes right up the coast.

    1. Well, at least you’ve got the Blue Jays, Eric! How’d the welding glasses work? A friend of mine did that but I don’t know how it turned out.

      I think we need perspective and years to fully appreciate phenomenons like this, such as eclipses and the Rockies reaching a World Series. (Or Cubs, even.)

      I think maybe eclipses move too slow for most kids.

      (So too does the Rockies’ World Series appearances. Or Cubs, even.)

      1. Eclipses are too slow for the immediate gratification kids. Rockies’ (and Cubs) World Series appearances are too slow for 40 year olds. The welding glasses worked great. They did give the sun a green tinge. I got lots of pictures of the eclipse with them. I also got everyone in our little neighborhood out looking at it. I meant to write about it, but I haven’t written much for last couple weeks. I’ll post the pics when I do.

  5. What a beautiful post. It reminds me to take the time and reflect on the big things in life – which are, as it turns out, the little things. Thank you for sharing this about your dad, too. So sorry about your loss, he was so young.

    1. Thanks, Andrea. The little things build the important things, I feel. All those memories and thoughts just flowed in together in the moment and I felt like a observer.

      Thanks about my dad – he got to meet only one of my girls, and I wonder what kind of relationship he’d have with them.

  6. Well goodness Eli, this is simply lovely. I love the peace you describe but that it also reminded you of your father’s passing. How young he was. Sadly I was unable to view the Eclipse. We had clouds and rain that day. So thank you for sharing your experience, I feel like I viewed it through you!

    1. Thanks, Beth. It all goes together, and that’s one lesson I’ve learned in a big way about life. Plus we never know how much time we’re given, as if the universe has a schedule for all that, too.

      In Carbondale, a cloud almost ruined the total eclipse view. Of all celestial things, it’s still at the whim of cloud cover.

  7. Wow. I’m blown away by this one, Eli. That’s an eclipse experience to remember for sure.

    I can’t believe the craziness that went on with the glasses. Here in the ‘burgh we had 80% coverage and people online were selling cardboard viewing glasses for $30 a pair. In June, my husband would only authorize the purchase of one pair when we found them for $2 each in Lowe’s. I vowed to make him watch through a hole in a cardboard box (since he was being cheap), but when the day came it was easy enough for us to share the one pair. I was awestruck even with our partial eclipse obscured by cloudy skies.

    Will you be selling naming rights to the new ride? I’m very good at naming things.

    1. Thanks, Joey. Who knew that would be what the day brought?

      You knew the glasses were going to get wild. Can you imagine in the places of totality? I remember the $2 glasses too, but if I had been so prepared, I wouldn’t have had a story to tell!

      What’s your suggestion for my new ride’s name? It must be a girl’s. SHE’S a girl.

  8. Eli, you rock. I mean that from the heart. You write beautifully. You often make me teary, reflective, and I leave here with much to contemplate. It’s good. I appreciate that, and I wanted you to know it, too.
    Bill’s dad passed at 62. Bill will be 62 this fall. Yes, math is scary that way. He thinks of this often…and he misses his dad even more often. Hugs.

    1. You’re sweet, Annie. Thanks. Sometimes, teary and reflective is where it’s at. Not always, but sometimes.

      It’s a big deal when you approach the age your father died, for a guy. Mostly I miss my dad and have a thousand questions I meant to ask him.

      1. That is how Bill feels, too. Bill was 19 and at the rebellious age when his dad passed. However, right before he passed, they got together. Bill played his guitar and they talked. Things were put back together for them…but so much was left unsaid for Bill. Hugs, my friend. Thank you.

  9. I was lucky enough to see totality on Eclipse Day. Being able to look at the sun without any type of protection was amazing, and I spent the entire time doing that. Now I regret not taking some time to look at my surroundings during the magical period. Too many choices.

    1. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, Lauren, but it was an exceptional experience. So much was there to see without glasses, as you know.

      If crescent-shaped shadows aren’t magical, I don’t know what is.

  10. So life has taken over again for the last few weeks.. but I kept this post in my Inbox so I could comment. I was in Nashville on the day of the eclipse because that is where my daughter and her husband live. It was very cool to see the totality and we got some really awesome pictures. My daughter is a novice photographer and has a nice camera. She got some incredible pictures of the event and totality.
    Your post was very poignant and I have a tendency to also take events from the universe and wonder what they mean in the midst of all the other stuff. There are a lot of similarities and analogies that can be gleaned from things that happen at the same time. I love it when God shows up and there are things that cannot be explained any other way.. He had to be the one to order the steps.
    I’m sorry for the loss of your dad at such a young age. I’m sure it is hard to imagine the math while you approach the same time. The Universe/God does know when things are going to happen. But sometimes I wish He would let us in on it too… 😉

    1. Glad you were in such a great spot for totality, Courtney. Cosmic events really put my place among it all into perspective, that I’m party of a huge universe, and also that I have a universe of sorts inside of me.

      I’m glad that God doesn’t reveal our futures. I don’t want to know. I want to find out when I get there.

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