I remember hearing a story when I was a little girl about the sun and the moon; two cursed lovers who were destined to chase one another across the sky. I heard stories of how one would hold its breath and sink to the other side of the world just to ensure its dearest love could dance across that wide expanse. Forever they chased, whispering their sweet nothings in the flickering of the light they shared. And yet- once in a great while, the gods granted them mercy. In the rarest of moments, their chasing would cease, they would meet in the sky and share a long kiss, a deep embrace; and all the world would stop, staring in awe as their love eclipsed this lonely place; so powerful it could turn day into night, if only for a little while.
Of all of the stories, the myths and the legends; this is the one I love the most. The years of searching, of chasing, of running across the sky; culminating in a moment that can still steal the heart and take the breath away.
Yesterday I experienced my first eclipse, and it was as magical as I had hoped. My hometown fell just outside of the zone of totality; we sat at about 99%, and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to travel to those dreamed-of areas where the viewing would be perfect. But I had an hour, my glasses, and good company. I’ve always been a bit of a science geek, and fell in love with the beauties outside of our planet when I was just a girl. I used to hide under my covers and read textbooks about the stars, sneaking peeks of articles talking about water on mars and what could be found on the moons of Jupiter. At eight years old I was convinced I would go there someday- or at least our moon, that dear little beauty. Losing that dream, stifling that sense of wonder and adventure for the sake of ‘realism’ and ‘pragmatism’ is perhaps one of my biggest retreats. You don’t realize unto you have stomped the budding plant under your feet that it had the potential to grow into a towering oak. That spark inside may have dimmed, but it still flickers. So when the eclipse came, I was prepared, giddy with excitement I didn’t even attempt to contain.
When I woke up, I tried looking out at the world and sensing a difference; were there any cosmic signs that today would be different than yesterday? Was the sun a bit brighter, or was that my imagination? It just felt like a regular Monday. At 9:06, I excitedly peeked up into the sky, wondering if I could see a difference- it looked like a regular day to me. And yet peering through my glasses, there was an entirely different story to tell. Just barely crossing in front of that bright orange glow- there it was, a beautiful orb intersecting in a delicate dance.
Walking outside, there was a buzz of excitement as people stopped every few feet to stare back up into the sky. The shadows themselves grew longer; the light cast between the beaches changed shape, looking for all the world like slivers of the holes you punch out of paper.
The world grew dim, an eerie twilight in the middle of the morning. And the thing that really struck me- it got cold. You don’t realize the power of the universe that we find ourselves in until right in that moment when the moon gains the upper hand and even the sun itself cannot stop it. It was beautiful, inspiring, and somehow managed to remind you of how small you really are. There’s something empowering in that moment, right there when you realize how bold and magical this world really is- and you are right there, a living and breathing part of it. You belong to it just as the sun does, just as the moon, just as the trees cast in those shadows- you belong to something so much bigger than yourself. It was powerful, it was amazing.
As I stood there in the false twilight, I couldn’t help but wonder how our ancestors handled this rare phenomenon; the stories that have been passed down tell a far different tale than my own. Many were fearful of this mysterious force that could turn day into night. The Incas believed that a jaguar was attacking the sun- and they would make as much noise as they could to scare the beast away from their beacon of salvation. Luckily for them- they won that batter every time. The knowledge that science bestows upon us has power. It can turn something that would traditionally inspire fear and uncertainty- and casts it into a new light of understanding. It can empower you, and remind you of your place in this world.
Have you ever heard the quote by Lawrence M. Krause? He said, “Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: you are all stardust.” You can call yourself a child of God, or a child of the stars; it is no matter to me- the point is that we belong, right here. We belong to this universe, the this solar system, to this planet, to this dirt and this water- we belong to each other. We all stood in amazement yesterday staring up into the sky as the sun and the moon shared a loving entrance before traipsing back across the blue expanse. We shared a moment that had nothing to do with ideology, political viewpoints, no sparring between us vs them, no suspicion and no hesitation. We shared a wonder of this world- and in that moment we were finally united, even if it was only transitory, a tiny little breath of time. Strangers were sharing glasses and smiling towards the heavens, thanking one another. Defendants and Judges stood on the sidewalk with rapt attention and shared a moment, all of their differences cast aside as they smiled at one another. Perhaps if we stopped to explore the wonders of this world more often, we would remember what we have in common with it and with one another. We are not so different; we are all stardust. We are all just the moon chasing that beautiful sun across the sky.
These last three photos are all courtesy of NASA- thank you for making me feel like I belong to something much larger than myself.