On February 26, 1979 I was twenty months old and I have a memory of that day (which I think is remarkable considering I often have difficulty remembering where I’ve placed my pencil). I remember being at a bank with my mother and suddenly everyone walked outside and gathered around a beautiful water fountain near the entrance of the bank. I remember being told not to stare directly into the sun, and I remember that a darkness fell over everything in sight; it lasted a few minutes and then the brightness of the sun re-appeared and everyone went back inside the bank; that is where my memory stops.
That was the last time a solar eclipse was seen in this part of the country; until this past Monday August 21, 2017.
The following is my second encounter with an eclipse of the sun:
I hadn’t put much thought into this Monday’s solar eclipse until about a week before it happened. I started seeing posts on my social media feeds about special solar eclipse viewing glasses that resembled paper 3D glasses. I tried to score a pair of these magical spectacles that would allow me to view this cosmic display but apparently they had unfortunately sold out… everywhere.
It wasn’t until I researched the date of the last solar eclipse and discovered that this eclipse from 1979 was indeed the eclipse from my early memories that I started actively taking an interest in the impending 2017 eclipse. I mean, if these things are 38 years apart I should give it some of my attention, right?
Monday morning I began by researching the approximate anticipated time of the solar eclipse in our area and promptly set an alarm so as not to get caught up in my daily tasks and miss this long awaited dance between brother sun and sister moon. As the afternoon approached, I ventured outdoors several times, just to make sure the moon hadn’t arrived earlier than expected to ruin my encounter with the orbital ogling I’d planned to do.
At the peak of the eclipse I was traveling from one side of our town to the other. I saw employees of all sorts of businesses who had stepped outside their offices, all donning their special glasses and looking up into the sky. I saw people in camping chairs lined up on the banks of the river, and as I got out of my car and stepped into the parking lot at the post office, a very nice man said to me “Do you want to look at the eclipse through my glasses?”
“I do,” I said.
What a phenomenal moment to have been shared, I thought; Strangers brought together on a path of stargazing and paper goggles.
In fact, I commented later “Isn’t it funny that, in the midst of such divisiveness in our world, this junction of sun and moon has brought us all onto this same path?” Just passing through our own small town I saw people of all walks of life, of varying ages, of diverse dress and social class; but all of them, despite their apparent differences, were peering amazingly up at the same thing. Beyond the confines of our small town we saw video footage of people all over the country pursuing the same goal; seeing the solar eclipse.
In an ABC news broadcast from February 26, 1979 newscaster Frank Reynolds said “So that’s it -- the last solar eclipse to be seen on this continent in this century,” and before signing off he added “And as I said, not until August 21, 2017, will another eclipse be visible from North America. That’s 38 years from now. May the shadow of the moon fall on a world in peace.”
I believe if we can focus more on what makes us alike (such as our fondness of sun gazing) instead of what makes us different; maybe one day, during a future solar eclipse, the shadow of the moon can indeed fall on a world in peace.