A few weeks before the eclipse happened in America, I listened to a Ted Talk entitled, Why you owe it to yourself to experince an eclipse. Essentially, the speaker talked about his first eclipse experience and how it changed his life. He talked about connectedness, about purpose and meaning, and chasing the moon.
Watching the social media excitement as the eclipse grew ever closer to America, I couldn’t help think about that podcast. About thousands – millions – of people across such a divided nation, watching the sky and experiencing those emotions.
That no matter the divisions we create within ourselves, we still turn our eyes to the heavens to watch the universe unfold.
This is the 2017 American Eclipse, as experienced by four teenage girls across the country.
It was the first day of classes after summer break, so everyone was in high spirits; free from the weight of mid-semester work and giddy on reunions with missed friends. The atmosphere was charged with anticipation, and classes after 12 had been cancelled for the solar eclipse. We weren’t in the path of totality, but we were at 97%, and that was more than enough excitement for us.
A little past noon, I watched from the cafeteria window as an unfamiliar dimness cloaked the grounds. It wasn’t the same kind of overcast or haze you get from clouds on a rainy day – this lighting was different. ”Oh shit, it’s happening,” one of my friends said, and a momentary hush of intrigue actually fell over the dining room. The actual eclipse wasn’t due for at least another hour, but its eerie shadow had begun to cross our path.
I wandered up to the quad where hundreds of students and faculty were gathered in clumps. Heads were buried in telescopes, paper glasses, makeshift pinhole cameras crafted from cereal boxes and the like.
I heard my name and was ushered over into a group of hugs and how are you’s? Thankfully, someone had a pair of proper viewing glasses, and we passed them around every so often, even though I’d decided I was going to take my chances glancing upward anyway. The sun, which was only partly shining down on us at this point, was warm. In between welcome back conversations, inevitable snippets of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, and ”you wanna look?” as the glasses made their way around the circle - I was feeling grateful.
I know, I know, I know it’s so ”fake deep” and cheesy and stupid. But one of the greatest survival tips I can offer is to recognize these moments of gratefulness liberally. And I was feeling grateful. For these people, for this connection of collective excitement, for these flimsy and probably overpriced 3D glasses that were presumably saving me from the blindness I had previously decided I was going to barter. For the reminder that, while this was perhaps the first total eclipse many of us had ever witnessed, it is a process that is ancient and will continue to outlive us. For the reminder that some things run in cycles. Some things change. For the reminder that those things are both natural and okay. For the reminder that the world is full of awe.
It was never like nighttime, or even late dusk, really. But it was dark enough that the streetlamps came on. Heads tilted, eyes squinted, brows raised, mouths opened in exclamations. How lucky are we to be alive and seeing this? The sun melting into the moon? Your presence does not go unacknowledged. The universe smiles softly down at you. No, really. There, on the concrete. The sun was at our feet and it was shaped like crescent moons.
The night before the eclipse, I stayed at my best friend’s. We set an alarm for 8AM, spent the entire morning getting ready, got into her car and immediately started blaring old 2000’s hip hop. On the ride into Nashville, we had a really meaningful and interesting conversation which started with us joking about the world ending during the eclipse. The excitement of it had us coming up with all kinds of different scenarios and “what ifs.”
We arrived in a big park, loaded with our cameras, water bottles and a bag of takis. I was blossoming with euphoria… we kept saying, “oh my god, this is once in a lifetime.”
Sitting under a shady tree, we glanced through our glasses at the sun, puting them over our phone cameras so we could take photos. When the sun was just a sliver, we ventured into the middle of the park with hundreds of others. As the sky started getting darker, everyone started shouting and clapping from excitement.
It felt unreal to be surrounded by so many different people that were enjoying the same event. A part of me felt like we were making history. I felt like I was witnessing something insanely beautiful, something that would be in textbooks. The euphoria of being “a part” of something grand made me feel powerful and happy. When the sky went dark in the beginning of the afternoon, you could see the moon covering the sun. My best friend grabbed my hand and shouted my name as all of us started clapping and screaming. I was trying my best to both enjoy the amazing sight and take videos of it all so that I would never forget. Everyone couldn’t stop screaming and I felt so happy. Actual chills were running through my body.
As the eclipse ended and the sky brightened, fireworks started going off on a building in the city. I was exhausted, body shaking. We decided to head out to eat and relax. The kind of environment that I had been surrounded in was incredible, and I wish I could see people joined together in that way much more often.
[ the shadows cast by the moon, mid-eclipse ]
I was with my mom and younger sister, and cousins from New York (here for a quick family visit before school) when the eclipse happened. We were all at my house, darting between my front and back door as the sky grew dark. I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, so though we weren’t in the direct path, we could still notice the change in the sky. These moments were magic. I don’t know what it was, but I felt a calmness in the air, as in this moment, we all paused to watch the same thing.
None of my family was able to obtain the eclipse glasses, so we were trying to catch a glimpse without blinding ourselves (it was a pretty fine line). My older cousin was live streaming the eclipse via instagram, and we were all in awe, saying how cool it was and how nice it was to be together for this. I was fascinated by the eclipse shadows – I had read about them a couple of hours earlier, but I didn’t think that I was going to be able to see them. They looked like paint stamps on the ground and on the side of my house.
I have this ten month old puppy, and he was barking his head off just minutes before the eclipse happened. I remember getting a post notification for Cole Sprouse’s Instagram, and the caption read: How many times does it need to be said??? If an animal starts speaking to you in strange riddles during the eclipse, listen to it. I showed to my sister and we both laughed, looking at Shea (my dog). To this day I still feel like Shea was trying to communicate something to us during the eclipse.
Monday, August 21st
This morning, my Grandma came into town. I wasn’t looking forward to her visit, and I wasn’t thinking about the eclipse just yet, either.
She’s an interesting character – she wears long skirts and lives alone and goes to Catholic mass every day and is quite traditionalist in her views and mannerisms. But she is still my family.
Around one o’clock, I was working at my boat club. Although I was sweating like crazy, I had an eventful shift. One little girl asked me if I was wearing yellow and black “for the sun and moon,” which I thought was sweet. Later, two different small girls came up to me and, smilingly shyly, handed me a slightly-melted cookie.
By two, some of the lifeguards down at the pool were beginning to take out the cheap eclipse glasses they’d brought. I tried not to glance at the sun as I snapped a picture of it – there was hardly anything to see without glasses yet, besides a small reflection in the shape of a moon in the photo.
As soon as I got home (less than thirty minutes later), I rushed inside to grab the glasses with my siblings. Grandma kept saying that she wasn’t “interested” in seeing it and continuously remined us to hold the glasses securely on our face at all times. My younger sister and I ran around the yard, finding different views of the sun and moon as they began to collide, slipping in and out of the kitchen to grab snacks.
When it was darkening a little, and moon-shaped shadows were appearing on our back porch, I started jumping up and down in the kitchen while Grandma stared, shocked. I couldn’t help it – I was so excited to witness this amazing event.
Lying in the yard with my younger sister, talking about the coming school year and how to feel free from it; twirling around outside, spinning in the overgrown grass and special shadows – it made me feel like magic. It made me feel that the universe and nature were simply magical and I was living in an astounding place.
Saturday, August 26th
It’s been a strange week. Grandma’s gone now – her visit was interesting.
The solar eclipse was so unbelievably cool. It just was. I feel connected to the moon; my sun sign is a Cancer, so I think I could be called a moon child.
It wasn’t until later this week, after watching all the videos and Snapchat stories, that I realized how powerful the eclipse was for our nation and people. All of us Americans, in such a troubled time, looking up. Craning our necks, holding those glasses to our face, staring at the wonders of creation. The universe brought us all together.
It sounds stupid, but maybe it was at just the right time. Maybe it’ll make us stop and marvel at the majestic life we’re living, like it did for me.