There’s something special about an eclipse. As I sat cross-legged last night on the little stretch of pavement running from our apartment building down to the sidewalk, watching the strange red shadow gradually—imperceptibly—move in to swallow our moon, I was reminded of the startling event with which Susan Beth Pfeffer’s novel life as we knew it opens:
It was like a big block party. The houses are so widespread on our road, you couldn’t really hear anything, just a general happy buzz.
When it got closer to 9:30, things got really quiet. You could sense how we were all craning our necks, looking toward the sky. Johnny was at the telescope, and he was the first one who shouted that the asteroid was coming. He could see it in the night sky, and then we all could . . .
And then it hit. Even though we knew it was going to, we were still shocked when the asteroid actually made contact with the moon. With our moon. At that second, I think we all realized that it was Our Moon and if it was attacked, then we were attacked . . .
But the moon wasn’t a half moon anymore. It was tilted and wrong and a three-quarter moon and it got larger, way larger, like a moon rising on the horizon, only it wasn’t rising. It was smack in the middle of the sky, way too big, way too visible. You could see details on the craters even without the binoculars.
A lunar eclipse is a normal event; nothing like the life-altering, never-to-be-forgotten moment Pfeffer’s character Miranda describes in her May 18 diary entry. But there’s something of the same feeling to an eclipse nonetheless, with neighbors out and chatting quietly, up and down the street. A sense of suspense, a hush; a breathless silence, as clouds scuttle along between the object of so much rapt attention and our attentive selves; and then a collective sigh of relief, as the object breaks free from the obstruction and once again shows its face to us.
I don’t have any worthwhile pictures of last night’s eclipse to share, but I do have pictures of something even more special: the solar eclipse of August 21, 2017, which I flew home to observe. After driving north for a couple of hours—from my parent’s farm, up into the path of totality—we made our way to a rural county fairground just in time for the sky to darken. Cloud-laden and drizzling, conditions were not ideal for observation. But when the sun went black, we could feel it. Here are my mother and a friend, taking in the moment:
And, here is how the rural county marked the occasion:
I don’t have a picture of my dad to share, although he was with us; which might have contributed to the weight of the day, its feeling of significance. He is old and medically fragile, and doesn’t generally leave the house. He had already sustained brain damage by the time of the eclipse, and continued to battle memory loss. But despite all this, he maintained enthusiasm throughout the drive, and even rose early without complaining: an event about as rare as the solar eclipse itself, cutting a swath—with the path of its totality—through the northeastern tip of the state of Kansas.