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The Relief, Or, Saturday Morning at 8:57am

It was a relief to discover that my small and particular anxieties are not the center of the universe. Which is to say on Sunday I flew to Houston, picked up a rental car, drove three hours to Austin (stopping at a convenience store because said car required an adapter I didn’t have for phone charging), showed up at my friend’s parents’ house because I’d keyed in the wrong address, drove 15 more minutes, ate dinner my friend had so kindly kept waiting, talked into the night, went to sleep, woke up, and around midday went to her kids’ school sports field and watched the solar eclipse.

So cool. We had clouds. They didn’t matter. I had expected total darkness. I had expected dogs to howl. I had expected to be overwhelmed; to overflow. Nope.

Oh, before it started, more butterflies than usual did flutter across the roads. In the first moments of the moon’s encroachment, swallows did wheel through the sky as though it were twilight; a bat flapped by. The light darkened and tilted orange. The children on the field shrieked, ran in circles, and chattered, depending on their ages. I think it got pretty dark, but I could still see around us. The horizon remained illuminated. A circular sunset, if you will.

But when the moon finally covered the sun, and we could put down our eclipse glasses and just regard, I couldn’t help but exclaim, “Wow!” We were a chorus of wows. For me, not because my feelings were so big, but because I could be small.

Another observation. That phenomenon, way up in the sky, had to bring a part of my consciousness to life that is not usually available to me. I suppose that my entire model of being, sensory, cognitive, emotional, remembered, might rely on a constant sun. When that changed, my model of understanding just sat down and said, “Wow.”

Given that I knew the world was not ending, as one who likes to think and was born with a high rev rate, it was quite lovely to hear the world without the motor noise of my thoughts.

Although I remember it happened, I now can’t say where that memory sits. I truly don’t know how else to explain it except to say it was really cool and immediately it was over I wanted it to come back and I’ve felt happy and calmer since.

Right. I imagine you’re all eclipsed out, but you’re who I share these things with so here we are. One more thing. I wasn’t alone. The eclipse, I said somewhere, was like a reverse pandemic. All of us sharing an experience, all at once, not locked in but out in community, inspired.

My friend took a photo. I was undone, and could not.

If anyone else saw the eclipse, and would like to share a story, please do. Have a wonderful weekend.

22 Responses

  1. Several years ago, we drove to Kansas from Texas for the previous total eclipse. That was a two day drive! We watched the eclipse from a 19th century cemetery on a hill amidst Kansas farms. It did get dark. I was in awe. This year, we watch the total eclipse from our East Texas farm. We drove our John Deere Gator out into the middle of one of our pastures and once again, we were in awe. This time, it didn’t get nearly as dark as five or so years ago. I have no idea why. My explanation has to center around reflections. I am aware that some people in the area didn’t stop the course of their everyday lives to observe this phenomenon. We planned and waited for it for an entire year. We shared it with old friends. We’re still talking about it.

    1. Susan, it sounds wonderful. You had the experience first, and then you made it available to old friends. I love that you’re still talking about it.

  2. My gosh, this is an excellent piece of writing. While you’re saying Wow to the eclipse, I’m saying Wow to your exposition. Now I’m headed back to the top for a 2nd and 3rd reading.

  3. I went to a picnic area about 7 or 8 miles west of Kerrville on I-10. A big fat cloud moved over the sun during the whole of totality. I was crushed. I should never have read that Annie Dillard essay—it set my expectations way too high.
    In the aftermath, I’m aware that I need to just accept what is. Stop grasping for a peak experience and just live my life, which is full of enough wonders as it is, if I just fine-tune my senses a bit.

    1. I can imagine how disappointing that would have been, and I’m so sorry. I agree with you, it is about expectations, and the capacity to find wonder in whatever comes.

      I should have added here: our forecast was for rain, so I’d been telling myself for a couple of weeks that I didn’t care about seeing it, and just the getting dark would be cool. I think I probably experienced the reverse of what you did. I hope wonders find you left, right, and center.

    1. And I loved [paraphrasing here]: “For me, not because my feelings were so big, but because I could be so small.”

  4. We live in 96+% totality. I made a pinhole viewer out of cardboard and got ridiculously giddy that it worked, took about two dozen photos of the tiny nail sliver images and passed them around. It was fun and also incredibly moving. I remember gasping and blurting “it’s really happening!” My dogs thought it was bedtime and went to sleep. The experience was a lovely combination of prosaic and monumental.

    1. Maria, I absolutely loved this. Thank you. Prosaic and monumental at once, exactly! I love that your dogs went to sleep. What a lovely doggish reaction to a brief night.

  5. I missed it!
    On the phone!
    I can’t get excited about it never have!
    I agree your writing was worth opening the post!

    1. Here in the Bay Area there really wasn’t anything to get excited about;). And thank you so much for the kind words about my writing.

  6. Saw eclipse here in Kansas at a bit over 90%. Still impressive to see the sun look like a crescent moon. What struck me this time was not the loss of light but the enormity of light eked out by such a tiny sliver of sun! Nature is enthralling.

  7. The 1997 eclipse here in the Seattle area occurred during our regular sculling practice. My sainted husband stood in line to procure the eclipse glasses the museum was handing out – two to a customer. So equipped with these we’d row for a bit, stop and pass the glasses down the boat for everyone to see then row, stop and hand the glasses over to the next boat. It was great fun and kind of special to be on the water for it.

  8. I initially went to the backyard on my own. When I looked up and saw the first bite the moon took, I was hooked. Nothing else in my world or the wide world mattered. My husband soon joined me and with a clear day and 98% coverage, it was otherworldly. I close my eyes and can visualize the magic once again.

    We are in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Only once have I seen the northern lights. I awakened my two children, who are now middle age, to see the glorious green lights dancing and lighting up the sky. I did not hear any sound but have heard that they do make sounds. Sailors talk about how scary the sound is the first time they heard it. I’m grateful to have seen the aurora borealis once in my lifetime.

    Lisa, I look forward to your writings.

    1. Beautiful. Thank you so much. I’d love to see the Northern Lights. Some day maybe I will.

  9. I also was in Austin. Nothing like a winery in hill country for such a special event :-). There was more light at totality because the solar cycle was at high activity, hence a much larger corona. Every one there enjoyed the spectacle but some of us more than others. I was awed and am glad I saw it after planning for 2 years!

  10. I’m late catching up on reading, but I feel moved to add here. I did get to watch the eclipse (after believing I would not!), and had a far more emotional experience than I expected. During the moment of darkness, a stranger I could not see remarked in a clearly cracking voice — and I’m not confident enough to attempt his exact words — that it really brings home the fragility of the whole thing: Earth, life, us, as one. That pushed me over the edge and into tears of my own. That sort of experience is one it would do us all good to have more often.

    Thank you for sharing your lovely and (as always) beautifully-written story with us, Lisa!

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