On the Sunday night before the solar eclipse I posted the following on Facebook:
“I’m of mixed mind about the eclipse.
On the one hand it is rare cosmic event whose occurrence should excite me with the promise of helping me better understand, or at least appreciate, our place in the universe. Moreover it is one of the few events we can share with hundreds of millions of our fellow humanoids.
On the other hand, I kinda don’t give a shit.”
I’ve never been particularly interested in astronomy or the planets. And for The Great American Eclipse I’d be located far from the celebrated Path of Totality. Only 70% of the sun would be covered from my vantage point in upstate New York. There would be no moment of eerie darkness. I imagined the whole thing could be seriously underwhelming.
But I also suspected I’d feel kind of guilty if I passed on the Big Show. I’d be missing something extraordinary, which I might later regret.
So on Monday morning I decided to drive over to the university and join the eclipse party that was scheduled for the afternoon.
I invited a couple of my musician friends to join me. Danny brought his acoustic guitar; Alan, his hand drums; and me, my tenor sax. We figured we’d do some primitive jamming to add a “spiritual” vibe to the scene.
When we arrived a crowd of a couple of hundred had already assembled in the concourse by the university’s planetarium. The organizers had been handing out protective glasses and had set up a number of specially-outfitted telescopes.
Sadly, they had just run out of glasses. Bummer, I thought. I probably won’t be able to see anything at all. But the organizers were encouraging people to share the glasses when the eclipse began, which was in about a half-hour.
So we started jamming, playing simple repetitive riffs, what you might imagine hearing at an aboriginal ritual tens of thousands of years ago.
The eclipse was already in full swing when we decided to take a break. I asked a woman standing nearby if I could borrow her glasses. I imagined I’d take a peak and it would look just like photos and videos I had seen earlier in the day online. Nothing spectacular.
But I was actually blown away.
Yes, it did look like the photos I had seen, but with a big difference. Unlike pictures or video, one experienced an extraordinary sense of mass. The moon wasn’t just a flat circle pressed against the sky, but something with weight and heft. The sun too, dare I say, projected a certain gravity.
It was this mass-ness, this sphericalness, the moon as a gigantic round rock, that not only delivered a genuine sense of awe, but was also strangely moving.
There was something deep and primitive and even a little scary about witnessing the planets as massive 3-D physical objects hurtling through space.
I was also taken by the reality of it all. Though I’m ashamed to admit it, I often find digital and artistic creations more engaging than reality itself. But not this time. Here was the real deal: “Isness” (as the philosophers would call it) in all its solemn stubborn glory.
As the moon began to leave its place in front of the sun, my friends and I returned to playing our ancient melodies, which seemed more appropriate than ever. Yes, for a brief moment we all felt more connected to the universe. And to the people who joined us in marveling at the heavens.
So even though I was of mixed mind about the eclipse the night before, I realize now that I was secretly excited by it and am grateful for having been a part of it.
By the way, I hear if you’re in the Buffalo area in 2024, there will be another total eclipse waiting to rock your world.
See you there.