NEWBERRY — I sit here reflecting on my cosmic encounter yesterday, August 21, 2017, and I am still amazed. Here are some of my impressions that may encourage you to mark your calendar for the next American eclipse on April 8, 2024.
I will start by saying that Newberry College outside of the stadium was a wonderful choice to host our Great American Eclipse experience. Music piped through the stadium speakers while we waited in anticipation: Earth, Wind, & Fire tunes and “This is Going to Be The Best Day of My Life,” but unfortunately, “Total Eclipse of The Heart” was not part of the playlist.
Met some lovely people from DC, NJ, Ohio, Connecticut, and South Carolina to spend a few hours together awaiting the spectacle. Many viewers sat in beach chairs or stadium chairs before the eclipse began, while my son, Ben, and I simply laid out colorful beach towels on the blades of grass under the welcome shade of an oak tree. When the partial eclipse began, the music ceased and we all experienced the event in our own way.
Occasionally, the stadium announcer would notify us at what percentage the eclipse was and how much longer before totality.
I’m sure many of you were able to at least behold the partial eclipse — 70 percent, 80 percent or maybe even 90 percent and you had to be impressed by it all. When it begins, the spectacle is breathtaking. There’s anticipation beforehand and then it is actually happening! For my personal experience, as the first crescent began taking shape, the Carolina blue skies were laden with puffs of white clouds.
Spectators around me collectively held our breath hoping that the demon clouds would not impact the miracle about to happen in 90 minutes or so. We all nervously watched the sky … seeing approaching billowy clouds, hoping they would disappear (not likely), shift direction, or slow down. We all thought, “All we need is 2 minutes of cloudlessness. Just 2 minutes … please don’t let us down!”
A great guy in our group from Ohio would let us view the eclipse through his binoculars (which had the solar lenses attached). That was incredible to view the event just a bit closer!
You may have seen videos of yesterday’s total eclipse. But in all honesty, this falls short of witnessing the celestial phenomenon with the naked eye by a long shot. Yes, the naked eye, because this is the time to throw the solar eclipse glasses down in order to view something rare and spectacular: TOTALITY. Witnessing the sun’s corona, flowing out like lotus petals radiating from the black disk — the moon covering the sun — is indeed a rare encounter with the cosmos. The insight and feeling that time is standing still for a fleeting moment, and the sense of awe and wonder will remain in my memory.
It’s incredible if you can seize the moments in a photograph, but even a picture can’t truly capture the intoxication you feel, because totality is so much more than just a visual experience. It’s auditory: Some would scream out in amazement (me included), or express a simple “ahhhh,” or just remain silent in a state of wonder. Birds began chirping their night songs, and a strange twilight covered the earth: Apparently, the winds shift and the temperature lowers a few degrees. It’s otherworldly: You’re surrounded by 360-degree sunset of pastel color. This is the experience of Totality — everything combined together.
I can certainly understand the mentality behind becoming an “eclipse chaser.” I was thrilled to share these magical 2 minutes 39 seconds with my son, Ben (I am actually getting teary eyed right now, no kidding!), but even more peculiar is how you share this magic with people you’ve never met before, yet feel a real connection with one another. This phenomenon makes you feel a oneness with every other person you are experiencing it with. It creates a bond even for a short few minutes.
So what I will preach from the highest mountaintop is that if you are able, even if you have to travel hours to view total contact, I strongly urge you to make the pilgrimage to the next TOTAL eclipse in 2024. Keep in mind that a 99 percent partial eclipse is still partial. It is 1 percent away from a total eclipse and that makes all the difference, believe me! There is a total transformation between 99 to 100 percent. It’s unbelievable when that first moment of totality arrives. Your moment of Zen …
Just reinforcing the difference: the retired astrophysicist, Fred Espenak, described a partial eclipse as getting 5 out of 6 numbers in a jackpot — you are close, but you still lost … or at least you didn’t hit the BIG money. During totality, the pastel colors of a faux sunset are everywhere along the horizon.
I’d recommend finding a place that is out in the open, treeless, to experience that awesome surrounding “sunset” which coincides with the total eclipse. During totality, it is no longer day or true night — it’s closer to twilight but it still has a different magical aura in this remaining light. Hard to explain — you just have to be there. You are one with the “music of the spheres” and in a total awareness of the cosmos.
So who knows what the future holds, but the next solar eclipse will be my quest in 2024. I look forward to planning my specific spot of the enchanting view. Shall I experience the rapture in a secluded area of a bucolic park with a few of my closest friends and family? Or would I prefer a repeat performance of yesterday — yet a new location, but in a small crowd of people in communion together … all in the same spot for the same exhilarating adventure. All awaiting the wonder of God’s great universe.
Well, I have some time to ponder …
After our last American eclipse event, February 26, 1979, ABC News anchor Frank Reynolds ended his broadcast with a hope that we would live in a world of peace in 2017, “So that’s it, the last solar eclipse to be seen on this continent in this century, 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 at peace.”
Unfortunately, that hope did not come to fruition.
This is an absolute: my plan is to have Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” play during totality wherever I view the phenomenon. For certain, it will bring me to tears!