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.
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.