Sometime in my late teens or early twenties, I read Annie Dillard's essay "Total Eclipse", which is about the eclipse she witnessed in the northwest corner of the country in the late 1970s. That essay stuck with me for years and years; sometimes I'd dip back into the book and read it again.
So earlier this year when I realized a total solar eclipse was cutting its way across our country, and that totality would cross South Carolina, I kicked into gear: thinking logistics, contacting relatives for advice, making plans, ordering glasses. My aunt and uncle in upstate South Carolina offered to host us; they live in the path of totality, and we adore them, so that was the perfect solution.
I had heard several people say "well, it'll be 90% [or 95%, or more] totality here, so I'm not traveling....that's close enough." From the essay I did not think it was the same thing...but now I know from experience.
On Monday afternoon I witnessed the most amazing thing I have ever seen in my entire life. And, as I told my children, I've seen many amazing things.
I was completely prepared (had read the science, read the essay, knew what to watch for) but nothing could have prepared me for what we witnessed.
How can you possibly describe it?
The partial eclipse was interesting in its own right; we stared up at the sun as it slowly disappeared into a thick crescent, and then into a thin one. Observing the way the sunlight changed was neat.
But the moments before totality were like nothing else. The light became weird, silvery, almost eerie. It was surreal. The air seemed to shift. The streetlights came on, the cicadas began to chirp...around 2:30 in the afternoon. My skin seemed different: almost like the light in a photograph's negative, or in an old memory.
Finn and I watched the asphalt on the street in my aunt and uncle's cul-de-sac, searching for the elusive shimmering shadow bands, and we saw them. That was weird; they were shadows from nowhere, phantom shadows, shaking shadows.
But when totality hit I was demolished. I remember staring at the shadow bands, and suddenly things got dark and my husband said "is this it?" and I looked up. And I definitely gasped, and maybe shouted.
The deep, dark blue sky surrounded a black circle with the stunning corona glowing around it: truly, like nothing I've ever seen in person. I shook. The air was electric with awe. We could hear others in the neighborhood shouting, and someone set off fireworks a few streets away. There was an orangey-pink sunset at all horizons. My heart raced, and I desperately tried to look, look, look everywhere, before it all disappeared. Everything was a blur: we were all chattering, exclaiming.
I was filled with both an overwhelming sense of wonder and a heart-wrenching feeling of being totally humbled. I remember thinking--please, please, let heaven be like this.
It ended too quickly. Finn and I saw the shadow race away from us and then we had to put our eclipse glasses back on. Soon the light returned. The streetlights went dark again. The day settled back into itself, business as usual: chatting and sipping lemonade on the front porch swing, reminiscing over photo albums, salmon for supper.
But it took a long time for me to stop shaking. And I still have tears in my eyes when I think about it.
My husband, who is impressed with almost nothing, immediately said "we're going to see the eclipse in 2024." I agreed; I desperately want to see that again.
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of His hands.
Yes. Yes they do.