On Monday, August 21, 2017, my family and I witnessed the total solar eclipse and the effect has been beautifully transformative.
My hometown of Nashville had been quietly planning for the eclipse for years – thanks to the fact that we were in the path of totality for the first time in over 500 years. But in the last month leading up to August 21 – the city began to awaken to the excitement of this once-in-a-lifetime event. Everyone in and around Music City started planning parties and celebrations, selling eclipse viewing glasses, and providing resources for the day. It was announced that schools would be out…then school was in…and finally they decided school would officially be out again. The weather forecast changed a few times. News outlets warned that the traffic would be crazy. Many said to stay home. Posters and t-shirts were made. Friends started making group plans about where to go and what to do.
I too fell into the excitement whole-heartedly – stocking up on eclipse watching snacks, making sure we had the correct glasses, trying to decide where we would view the event and talking to my girls about what they were hearing and learning about the eclipse at school. I also watched videos and read articles about other experiences of people viewing a total solar eclipse that were making the rounds on social media. Over and again I heard “it’s a once in a lifetime event,” and “everyone should experience a total solar eclipse in their life,” or “pictures just don’t do it justice.” Some compared a total solar eclipse to a partial eclipse (which I remember experiencing in grade school) and I laughed when I read Annie Dillard’s essay claiming, “Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”
I was excited, sure, but tentative. Not sure what MY experience would be like and if it would live up to all of these grand and profound expectations.
At the last minute, we decided to LEAVE Nashville for the eclipse. We drove east on Saturday – 2 days before – to our rural family cabin that was also in the path of totality. We spent the weekend watching the sky at the time of the eclipse – 48 hours before, then, 24 hours before – so that we knew the best place to view.
On Monday morning, my mom had invited some friends to drive to our cabin for the occasion. Early in the day, people started to arrive buzzing with excitement. The sky was perfectly clear. One friend drove in from D.C. with a telescope and a filter for viewing. Others brought blankets and chairs, lunch and drinks to share, eclipse cookies and Moonpies and extra viewing glasses for all! A family friend was celebrating his 70th birthday the same day so we had cake and the festive feeling was overflowing.
And then we nestled into our perfect little spot at the edge of a field as the eclipse began – watching the moon slowly make its way over the sun. The girls began sharing all the things they learned in school that we should look for – first contact, eclipse shadow bands, crescent shadows, Baily’s Beads or the Diamond Ring Effect. They were giddy and full of grade school science and wisdom. Adults talked about what people must have thought 1000 years ago when an eclipse happened and how crazy it was to be experiencing the very same thing.
During the hours as the moon crept over the sun, the girls would watch for a few minutes and then play or chat, swing or run. They each looked through the telescope to see the process magnified and then grabbed another Moonpie before plopping down next to me to check what stage we were in.
“Mom it looks like someone took a bite out of it!”
“Now it looks like a crescent.”
“Mom, how much longer?!”
“I think I see the diamond ring!”
And then as it got closer to the moment of totality we gathered together as the light started to dim and produce an illustrious glow – like the golden hour before sunset – and the temperature began to drop. The wind picked up a bit and suddenly the crickets started chirping loudly. At the moment of totality, darkness settled upon us and at first it got silent and then there were cheers as we took off our glasses and stood in awe. A quick Happy Birthday for our friend and several howls at the moon and then for two and a half minutes we marveled and soaked in the magic of that moment. It was tangible, that magic…something about the feeling of witnessing something so huge and so beautiful.
And the sky – the horizon in every direction glowed with sunset colors, the planets were visible, and the actual eclipse was magnifying with its silvery rays.
Indeed, the pictures don’t do it justice…nor do words for that matter.
And then after about 2 and a half minutes, the moon continued moving and the total eclipse was over. Visitors packed up to head home while we dutifully re-applied our glasses and continued to gaze upward as the moon moved on. We basked in the glow of excitement and wonder for several hours before starting the 3-hour trek back home to Nashville.
On our drive home, the girls fell asleep while Brad and I recalled the amazing day – almost in disbelief – and then encountered a breathtaking sunset. I joked that the sun was showing off – not to be outdone by her brother moon.
And now, over a week later, I still find myself pausing in awe that I was able to witness such an amazing event. To share it with my family – in our special family place – where time seemed to stand still. And even around the Internet and amidst a small crowd of friends and strangers – instead of debating politics or discussing work; arguing with siblings or worrying about tomorrow – everyone was focused on the beauty of the moment – as fleeting as it was. And this feeling flowed into the whole day for hours. And now even weeks later I find myself contemplating the beauty of that experience – of that moment.
Brad, our girls and I have deemed ourselves “umbraphiles” or “eclipse chasers” and we’re excited for opportunities to experience a total solar eclipse again in our lifetime – and thankfully we should have several opportunities to do so, even here in the U.S.
But we’ve also agreed to be “beauty chasers” – to seek out those moments of beauty in our lives – in our travels and in our family; in our relationships and in our adventures; in our every day surroundings and in ourselves – even if only for a fleeting 3 minutes or less – because clearly the effect can be beautifully transformative!
Cover Photo was taken by my dear friend Regine’s father Thomas Webster in Nashville.