The kid and I were in Columbia, South Carolina to see the total Solar eclipse. We’re still trying to get back to Boston, but that’s another blog, or maybe not — 3-4 hour delays seem to be too common to even make fun of these days, at least on Delta.
I could make fun of the total eclipse-related “traffic” we were warned about in South Carolina’s capital city, but I’d have to use Boston as a comparison, and it’s weird even for me to brag about how much more traffic we have: The bumper to bumper crawl around the city or coming to a dead stop on the Pike on any random day just before Boston or between the 3 Worcester exits (that’s Woostah to you) — where you can be stopped in traffic long enough for a drink and a cigarette. Heck, it can take 2 hours to get home on the train after the Fourth of July fireworks. So when they said plan ahead, I was thinking along those lines. Thank you, Columbia for not even coming close.
But none of that matters, because for almost 2 hours, we watched the greatest show on earth. The eclipse forecast, which had been updated daily like Vegas odds, this morning finally settled on 90-plus degrees and 50% chance of cloud cover — even money. The lucky bit was that the clouds were those great, big puffy ones that play cat and mouse with the sun, so I figured at some point we’d see something. But even if we didn’t, we were with a group of other eclipse enthusiasts, at the SC State Fair grounds, surrounded by happy tailgaters from all states, setting up their canopies and chairs, grilling, laughing, playing catch, playing music.
And then it started. Wearing our glasses that looked like we were from a 50s 3D movie, we watched as the first dark sliver appeared. The glasses block out everything else, so all you can see is a sharp gold ball, with an ever growing black bite getting taken out of it. It was great just to focus on that, and try to forget about lying on the ground in the sun’s heat. The clouds came and went. When a cloud blocked the sun, we cooled off in the car. But then I started enjoying watching the way the glasses made everything blank, and then the gold ball would peek through the darkness as the cloud passed by. While the eclipse was already an immense gift, this slow uncovering of the partially eaten gold ball made the experience even more dear. This might be all I was going to get, so I sweated, watched, and decided whatever sunscreen was left on me would have to do.
The cars next to us were playing music, and I had to chuckle at the appropriateness of “Black Hole Sun” and “Sky Full of Stars.”
Half way. It was taking forever and not long enough. Texts from various friends rolled in, the first from my friend who was watching the total eclipse from Oregon. He was already finished seeing the eclipse before we even started, and he said it was amazing. Sending happy updates to friends, I watched the sun get darker. The clouds began to thin out, with bigger blue sky gaps.
At the 3/4 mark, the dark curve seemed to move faster. It wasn’t quite so hot and a slight breeze kicked up. People who had been only sporadically paying attention were alert and calling to their eclipse mates to come out, to come see. The sky light became more subdued, like before a thunderstorm, but more dull yellow.
The full eclipse would occur at 2:43 and at 2:40, someone started playing “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” and a bunch of us laughed.
The light arc was now a thin strip, disappearing at the edges…”Turn around bright eyes…”
The last bit of light flared in what’s called the diamond ring, and we all cheered and clapped. The sun was a black circle with just light wisps of the corona showing. It was magnificent. Tears leaked down my face, and the kid came up behind me and gave me a hug. It was that kind of thing, like you wanted to hug the person next to you because of the magic and the beauty. All around the horizon, in every direction, the sky looked like sunset. With the heat blocked, the air cooled.
“It’s going to come back soon,” said the kid, and my human instinct kicked in — No! I wanted it to go on a little longer, watch it longer, have a chance to let it sink in. But I am just a speck in the face of these enormous celestial bodies that carry on in their own mysterious ways.
And then the diamond ring flashed again, and the sliver of light returned. The crowd clapped and cheered again — harder this time — for the flawless performance, and exclaiming delight in their own way. The kid thanked me for arranging the trip, and I gave him a hug.
People started to pack up, but I lingered a bit, watching the inverse of the event while the light reclaimed its usual state. But nature had given us enough, more than enough, and a sun shower turned into a sun-blocking cloud, and a bit more rain. It was time to go.
So it doesn’t matter that we’re still sitting in the airport 8 hours later, still waiting to get on the plane to Boston. Today we witnessed an amazing miracle, something much bigger than ourselves, and it eclipsed everything else.