I was in Jr. high school when the eclipse happened on March 7, 1970. We had been told to prepare for this for months. It wasn’t like today when you have the ability to self-serve your own information via the internet. Then we depended on government bulletins to tell us what to do. The danger in an eclipse is the one of appearances: you can look at the sun because it’s no longer bright – but you can still burn your retinas. What you can’t see, does hurt you. Sometimes causing irreparable damage.
Because the eclipse not only happened during the school year, but also while the school was in session, millions of children were under the care of watchful teachers and principal who were responsible for us for the duration. It was a total eclipse. The moon blocked the sun long enough for the day to become night. It wasn’t a passing shadow, it felt like so much more.
Not that I witnessed the event. We were dutifully marched into the assembly hall and remained there, sitting next to one another, trying to be quiet, while the phenomenon took place overhead. It was eerie and scary. In part because nobody knew what to expect and kids, being kids, we had ‘heard’ about ‘things’ that could/should/would happen during that time.
The eclipse that will happen on August 21 will be mostly visible in the Parsippany area at a magnitude of 77—which from the diagram I saw means the sun will be mostly covered, but not completely
Still, part of me was curious to see the effects, if not the actual phenomenon. I wanted to know if birds would stop chirping, if flowers would close… how would the natural world react to this loss? I didn’t find out then because I spent the time in the penumbra of the auditorium, not quite believing that the world wasn’t coming to an end. Throughout history, eclipses have almost always been interpreted as omens, or portents, harbingers of dread. Although science has done much to de-mystify what happens, I think we can still ask, “What does it mean for us in 2017?” A magnificent phenomenon of the natural universe only? A sign from above? An omen or portent?
Maybe just a time to reflect on what the absence of light means. What does it mean to be in darkness? Can we use it as an analogy? “In Him there is no darkness at all…” the corona of the sun will still be visible, “the darkness cannot overcome it..” We know that, too! The eclipse is a shadow, specifically, the moon’s shadow, and we know, we know! How much smaller the moon is than the sun.
That in the moment of the eclipse it appears to cover the sun, is a transitory thing. A moment in time. Disorienting, scary perhaps. But the sun remains constant, steady.
Pulitzer prize writer Annie Dillard has a fantastic essay about an eclipse she witnessed and how it affected her. It is powerful and nightmareish at the same time, but profound. Total Eclipse in her book Teaching a Stone to talk. Here is a short excerpt from a conversation she recorded”
“Then somebody said something which knocked me for a loop. A college student, a boy in a blue parka who carried a Hasselblad, said to us, “Did you see that little white ring? It looked like a Life Saver. It looked like a Life Saver up in the Sky,”
A life saver… Not the harbinger of death, but life.
To read the entire essay, follow this link: https://home.ubalt.edu/ntygfit/ai_05_mapping_directions/ai_05_see/ad_total_eclipse.htm