Monday, April 08, 2024

Scathed by totality

"There is a mysterious woundedness that somehow goes with great blessing. When we truly encounter the night in all its beauty and terror, we have no assurance whatsoever that we are going to come out unscathed."

— David Steindl-Rast

 I came to upstate New York, to Canandaigua on the Finger Lakes, to give a retreat around the theme of the solar eclipse, and then stayed to experience totality. The weather forecast oscillated for days, partly sunny to mostly sunny and back to partly sunny and finally to mostly cloudy. And mostly cloudy it was. We had a single glimpse of the sun about two minutes before the moon began to eat away at the disc. As the time approached for totality, there was really no sign that an eclipse was on the way. I wondered if this would just be like the experience of a thunderstorm where the sky grows dark, but night doesn't fall. I fitfully checked the radar on my phone, hoping that the break in the image would translate to, if not clear skies, clearer skies. It did not. 

The clouds were louring and dark, as before a summer thunderstorm. It grew colder. Suddenly there was a deep violet funnel shape visible on the horizon. Even with the sun hidden behind the clouds, we could see the shadow of the moon flying at us at 1800 mph. It got darker and darker. The horizon, where the shadow had yet to fall, was smudged with the deep pastel colors of sunset. And it got darker yet. Nightfall had come. 

Totality lasted over three minutes where I was standing. Three minutes is longer than you think in these conditions. Annie Dillard was right. The difference between a total eclipse and a partial eclipse is like the difference between kissing someone and marrying them. I have seen partial eclipses, the first in Illinois when I was young (1963), one unexpected in California, and one in 2017. This was nothing like them. While I wished I could've seen the corona, the swiftness of nightfall, and the swifter return of light left me breathless. The enormity of that shadow hovering over us rang a disquieting chord inside of me. And it did not leave me unscathed.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:16 AM

    You are so right! I spent the weekend at one of our scout camps, teaching youth about STEM, then we all spent Monday afternoon in a field watching with clear skies. I have no words for the experience of totality - it was amazing!