Totality

August 21st, 2017 (Travel Date)

Flashes of light leak through the partially opened curtains, just above the hotel air conditioner. I try unsuccessfully to take a picture of the rain falling across the cars and motorcycles parked below as it cleanses the streets and vehicles of the grime upon them. This has been a day I will remember the rest of my life.

I’ve struggled to imagine a color or tone, a shade that represents what I was searching for when I began sculpting the novel Misunderstood into shape for publication, in part because I wasn’t sure how to define it. Today, I have found the combination of light and shadow that I was looking for.

How does one define such a color, where darkness and light are as one? Perhaps through the imagination: slowed waves of white light shining through a diamond without the glimmer being cast from the edges onto a surface bathed in shadow. The two do not really form a gray as expected, but something different. This casted combination is something no one can see in any other way than to be within it. One can read about such an existence, attempt to imagine it, have knowledge of its existence, but knowledge of something isn’t quite the same as experiencing it.

There were a number of people, standing atop a meadow, some with telescopes at hand, some with wine in hand, some in lawn chairs with DSLR cameras mounted to tripods and some with cell phones. A few took in the experience without the distraction of technologies of the electronic kind, happy to be alive, in tune, at peace or searching for it.

"Obscured" by Author Alan S. Garrett, 2017 Total Solar Eclipse Series, August 21st, 2017, 12:44:48 PM.

As the partial eclipse began, clouds threatened the view, continually thickening as time moved forward. Half way toward totality, there were moments where the view was obscured completely. I don’t know why, but sometimes the greatest wonders in life remain obscured by those interferences that stand between our eyes and the beauty that lies on the other side of the obstruction.

Light began to change, so gradual at first that it was not very noticeable. Then the winds began to increase, not dramatically, but enough that people began to comment about it. The air began to cool, tension built.

To stand within the centerline of a total eclipse of the sun is unlike any experience I have ever known. In the final minute or two before totality, light and shadow begin to bleed into one. The horizon begins to appear as one might expect it to during the moments just before the sun rises, or just after the sun sets. But rather than an orange glow in only one part of the horizon, the orange glow exists across the circumference of the horizon. If you’ve ever been to a planetarium and had the lights dimmed with the soft glow of light emanating from the base-edge of the dome, this is what it looked like. Above it all, we entered totality.

There is a reason I used the term “we” to describe entering totality. It wasn’t just the Sun and the Moon, or the shadow alone that created this moment, it was every living entity that existed within this alignment to witness it: those who traveled a few miles, those who traveled a great many. Every cell and every atom, every collision of inorganic matter that went into the making of this place and point in time were connected. For 2 minutes and 36 seconds (where we were), it was as though time stood still. All eyes were now turned toward the night sky that was within view.

Seeing the orange glow on the horizon was really something, but seeing the night sky appear in the middle of the day was something else. The reflected light of Venus was the first to appear. Although I had hoped to view Mercury, the clouds were simply too thick. Many stars remained obscured, but the darkness of a night sky was in full view. All around, the surface of the ground was in darkness, and the further into totality we climbed, the darker it became.

The streams of white light extending out from the edge of the eclipsed sun were unlike anything I’ve seen captured by a photograph, but a few get pretty close. After the first minute or so I turned from the telescope to take it all in, thinking about the end of a life I had known before this moment, and pausing to think about what would come after. How would the lives of those within totality change? Would change be recognizable instantly, thought about later, or at all? The cheers and applause that grew when totality began fell into a silence of awe, shattered by the sound of fireworks in the distance.

As we grow older, time accelerates. A year when we are young seems to take forever, but a year when we are older can seem as though it was a mere day, once passed. I began to think about life up to this moment, beneath totality, just over 47 years of it. “Have I done enough?” I asked myself.

For some, seeking change within the self is enough, for a few influencing a single life for the better is plenty, while others remain unsatisfied unless change comes to all. But real change only arrives within the self, by the self. Anything outside of personal intent within is not about change, it is about power and control; at least those were a few of my thoughts in this moment.

However much or little we claim to be consciously aware of our existence, it matters not if we are unable to recognize the difference between living and simply existing. Living to work doesn’t have the same meaning as working to live, and the two statements I’ve found we often get backward during times that the opposite is required.

As totality came to a close I placed the white light filter back over the end of the telescope. An effect known as the diamond ring began to appear as the light of the sun began to break the plane of the moon’s edge. I’ve never seen a light as pure as this. I almost could not stop staring at the pureness of it all, though I desperately needed to.

Cheers erupted again from the crowd as the moment of totality passed. The light shifted along with the wind and the temperature. The shadow of the moon raced across the thin layer of clouds and several planes flew overhead chasing it, including two very large aircraft at high altitude that were perhaps research planes. 

People began packing up within minutes, as daylight returned to the skies above, though the partial eclipse would go on for some time. Perhaps to many it was all about totality.

It wasn’t quite what I imagined it would be, with so many going to their cars and leaving before the partial eclipse was over. But I, too, packed up my telescope, and went with my mother to the winery nearby to have ice-cream and watch the rest of the eclipse from the comfort of an outdoor chair.

There was an air of weight lifted, you could see it in the smiles and hear it in the laughter. For the next half hour or so people seemed a bit more friendly, their faces a little brighter than before. Whether it was just my perception I cannot tell you, but it didn’t seem that way. Shared experiences have a habit of linking those involved in ways that often aren’t understood until later.

For those first few hours following totality I felt healed, clear headed, as if I had passed through something myself.

Hours later we made it back to Hannibal. We stopped by a restaurant then returned to the hotel with the Mississippi river in view. By 1:31 am the lightning and heavy rain outside the window had me sitting up in the hotel room chair, trying to understand how this distracted mind could have functioned so well for the few hours following totality. How could a distraction such as this do for me what almost 12 years of medication could not? It was a heavy weight of a thought to ponder.

Eventually I would return to sleep, aware that somewhere within time, some part of me still stood beneath the moon’s shadow, caught between staring at a screen linked to a camera recording an event through a telescope, and forgetting about everything but the view as I stared above. What had just happened in this meadow near Fulton, Missouri? The thought carried me to sleep. A thought caught somewhere within white light mixed with shadow, a place where any sense of individuality had all but disappeared.

What a world it could be, if we could see light and shadow as one, before the inability to see beyond our individual existence had a chance to take hold. As the last few moments of being awake expired, a thought I’ve had for a very long time entered again. What if the foundation of our conscious perception was rooted in the idea that we are one, beneath our differences: one species fully aware of itself, merely trying to survive through diversity together, appreciating each other’s individuality together, in a world built on change.


"Partial"
Image taken by Author Alan S. Garrett from Missouri, USA
2017 Total Solar Eclipse Series
August 21st, 2017, 1:14:12 PM