The eclipse: A nation briefly united in awe
“For one brief moment, day became night,” said William Wan in WashingtonPost.com. Millions of Americans, clutching their solar glasses, cameras, and telescopes, gazed into the sky as one to watch the sun be replaced by a black circle “ringed on all sides with gleaming white fire.” Darkness descended, a chill went through the air, and startled birds “darted in every direction.” It was “the celestial event of the century”: The Great American Eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017, when, for a few fleeting moments, the moon blotted out the sun across 14 states, in the first coast-to-coast total eclipse since 1918. In Oregon, where the eclipse made landfall, said Henry Fountain in The New York Times, an elderly couple pulled up on Interstate 5, “clutched each other, and beamed and laughed as totality began.” As the eclipse swept through Idaho, Wyoming, and across to the marshes of South Carolina, onlookers wept, “laughed uncontrollably and stared dumbfounded” at the midday darkness. “I’m in awe,” said one eclipse watcher. “Magical,” said another.
“All too soon, it was over,” said Laura King and Matt Pearce in LATimes.com. But for two or three brief minutes, the cosmic spectacle awakened “a sense of childlike wonder” in young and old. The event was the most-watched eclipse in history, with 12 million living in the path of totality and hundreds of thousands of others choking the nation’s highways to stake out prime viewing spots. Across cultures, an eclipse has been seen as a portent of doom, said Bloomberg.com in an editorial. But for an America blighted by division, “rage, and resentment,” this eclipse represented a welcome unifier—“a communal act, free of politics: just what the U.S. needs.”
I can vouch for that, said Brian Resnick in Vox.com. As adults, we grow cynical and numb to life’s mysteries. But, from my spot in South Carolina, “when the shadow fully took over the sun, the crickets chirped, Venus appeared bright in the sky next to the sun, and I lay down before a black, black disk that was surrounded by the most angelic white light I’ve ever seen.” The aweinspiring spectacle “made the world, the universe, feel big again.” As one eclipse chaser put it, “A total eclipse reminds you of your insignificance. Frankly, I think we all could use that.” ■