Tom’s World — Tom Westfall
Lessons from the eclipse
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you recently experienced a total eclipse. A well-hyped event, the eclipse witnessed hundreds of thousands of pilgrims inundating Wyoming and Nebraska, bringing traffic to a virtual stand-still at times. The two minutes of “totality” were said to be transformational in terms of a life event. An interesting thought, one that, should it bear fruit, might be worthy of some exploration. Since the proof of the pudding is in the taste, for the present moment I’ll reserve judgment on the transformational aspects of the solar eclipse.
Personally, I was mildly underwhelmed by what actually transpired as the moon crossed in front of the sun. As Charlie Brown once observed, “The anticipation far exceeded the actual event.” Now before you overreact to my less than enthusiastic observation, I will admit that I didn’t fully embrace this historic opportunity with any real effort. In other words, I didn’t trek to Bridgeport, Nebraska or Hartville, Wyoming. Rather a small group of friends gathered on the farm for an eclipse brunch. We donned our glasses and between snippets of conversation looked skyward.
Apparently 97.2 percent occlusion of the sun is really not enough to create significant changes in daylight. It did get slightly less light for a few minutes, and I believe that the crickets in the garden might have started chirping, but I was unable to see Venus or Jupiter and even as a solitary cumulus cloud momentarily obscures the sun’s rays and then passes on, so did the moon’s trajectory move away from its crossing with the sun, and we spent the remainder of our gathering bathed in bright sunlight.
I did enjoy watching the “crescent sun” as it waxed and waned, and had I known that 97.2 percent blockage wasn’t going to generate “the event of a lifetime,” I might have moved a little farther north, but that’s hindsight and we all know that hindsight is 20/20. (Although with the year 2020 rapidly approaching, would that might make it foresight?)
Due to my disappointment at missing out on “totality” it occurred to me that the event might be salvaged if I could find some meaning in the eclipse moment that I experienced. After careful reflection, I have a couple of thoughts that I’ll share.
The first of which is this…sometimes it seems like things are getting (metaphorically speaking) darker in our world. There’s war and poverty, racism and greed…it’s easy to get drawn into the darkness and begin to believe that the end of time is upon us. But think about this…it only took 2.8 percent of the sun to remain uncovered for “totality” to be more akin to a passing cloud.
I suspect that there’s a lesson here for us all…as long as there is a glint of hope, a ray of compassion, a sparkle of kindness, a sliver of selflessness, the darkness will never overcome the light. Rather than fearing the darkness, we should embrace goodness and recognize that there is reason for optimism. We can, each and every one of us (proverbially speaking) be a beckon of light and the effulgence in an otherwise often dark place…
As an avocational archaeologist and student of history, I was reminded of just how much we “know” about the natural world today. I was imagining a total eclipse 10,000 years ago and pondering just how that event would have been perceived. No doubt it would have been incredibly unsettling to those who experienced it because they did so without benefit of the “why.”
Personally I am in awe of those who can divine the exact moment of “totality”—the fact that scientists can tell us precisely when eclipses are to occur never ceases to amaze me. It is not my field of study, nor would I pretend any true grasp of understanding. Before cognition of what creates an eclipse, however, I suspect that such an event would have generated a metaphysical explanation rather than one predicated upon scientific study; left to our own devices, we often conjure up “meaning” to explain the unexplainable.
But here’s an interesting reality; even though we all knew the precise moment when the moon would pass in front of the sun — there was no magic or mystery to that, it still generated a sense of wonder and excitement in us. The physical universe is a complex and fascinating place and as sojourners on the ride, even with full knowledge of the why, we can experience the majesty of the firmament.
So there are my takeaways from the 97.2 percent eclipse that I experienced here on the farm in northeast Colorado; it did give me something to think about it. Maybe I’m not really so disappointed after all.
Westfall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.