The August 21, 2017 solar eclipse. It’s difficult to find the words to describe this event. I live in Nashville, TN, which was in the path of totality. I had been told that the eclipse was a “once in a lifetime” event and heard people describe witnessing totality as a spiritual experience. I read predictions that millions of people from all over the world would be flocking to the path of totality to see seek the life-altering power of this experience. Still, I had a hard time understanding what to expect.
My only frame of reference for seeing an eclipse was being in kindergarten and watching the 1991 partial eclipse through pinhole in a cardboard box. The fact that I can even remember that event probably says something about how exciting and important it was in my young mind, but my fuzzy memories of seeing a partial eclipse as a kid made it hard for me to understand the magnitude of what I was about to witness.
I’m the kind of person who likes to be somewhat prepared for things, so in the days leading up to the eclipse, I watched two documentaries on solar eclipses to learn more about what to expect and how to make the most of the eclipse. Seeing video and photos of totality was impressive, but my big takeaway from listening to people who spend their lives travelling the globe for the beauty of totality was that its something you have to see to believe. Truer words have never been spoken. My mom, who is always thoughtful and two steps ahead, sent me a booklet written by one of these “solar eclipse chasers” who described how special totality is by saying “if seeing a partial eclipse is like flying in an airplane, witnessing totality is like skydiving.”
The day of the eclipse, I decided to work from home so I didn’t get caught in the nightmare traffic that was predicted and to make sure I didn’t miss a moment of the action. As soon as the eclipse began, I ran outside with my special eclipse glasses to see if anything was visible yet. It was high noon with clear skies, and the sun was beating down on our backyard. On days like this, I can’t set foot outside without sunglasses or having to squint to see. The eclipse glasses were amazing. The only thing visible while you have them on is the sun, and when I looked up, I saw the perfectly round orange globe of the sun with one tiny little bite out of the upper right edge of its circumference. The moon’s shadow had begun descending upon the sun, and I can’t describe what seeing that was like other than that it left me with an eerie and exciting feeling that something very strange was afoot.
I called my family to come outside, and we took turns gazing at the sun. About that time, some clouds started to roll in, and I was immediately filled with anxiety that a cloud would come by right at the moment of totality and block us from this once in a lifetime event. Over the next 30 minutes, we continued to watch in amazement as the moon’s bite out of the sun slowly got bigger and bigger, and we prayed the clouds would disperse long enough for us to witness totality, as only now could we fully connect to what a big deal seeing this cosmic event would be.
As the moon’s shadow continued to overtake the sun, we went down to a park in our neighborhood to pick out our spot for totality viewing. We met up with some friends of ours and marveled like little kids at the natural wonders unfolding around us. As the sun’s shape turned from an orb to a crescent, we noticed that the light emitted from the sun kept getting dimmer and dimmer. Though it was 1 o’clock on a sunny day, the light was dim and hazy. It was lighting like I’ve never witnessed before. It wasn’t like dusk or a cloudy day or any natural thing I can compare to. I’ve heard people say it was like looking around and seeing everything in Sepia, which is probably the best description I’ve heard. The closer totality got, the more my excitement at each little detail of the event grew. I could be heard audibly gasping every time I looked back up at the sun and saw its tiny crescent of light growing smaller and smaller.
When it looked like the moon was only inches away from overtaking the sun, I finally felt like I could breathe knowing that a cloud was not going to prevent me from witnessing totality in all its glory. As it got darker, we noticed that the birds quit chirping and you could hear crickets coming out. Watching night creep into the day was surreal and felt like a waking dream. With the darkness expanding and the temperature plummeting each minute that ticked by, my body knew something wasn’t right and my mind lacked any tool to understand what was happening, leaving me with arms full of goosebumps. I kept trying to look directly at the sun without eclipse glasses before it was time, and I’m glad I did if only to have witnessed how eerie it was to see only a tiny little glimmer of light coming from where the powerful midday sun should have been. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen.
And then there was the moment of totality. When everything finally went dark, we ripped off our eclipse glasses and stood in amazement of totality. The “corona” or light peeking out from behind the moon illuminated the strangest and most incredible sight I’ve ever beheld. The moon’s shadow looked gigantic in the sky. It was like a huge black pearl was sitting in the air in front of me. Everything around us instantly turned to midnight. My heart was racing, and I kept saying “Oh my God, Oh my God” because I lacked any other way to express the excitement that was bursting in my mind. I don’t think I blinked for the entire two minutes. At one point I felt so overcome with emotion that tears welled up in my eyes. I went from standing to sitting on my knees just to feel the earth beneath me as I soaked in this incredible cosmic image. As the end of totality neared I got back up and put my arms around my family with gratitude that we could share this unforgettable moment. I don’t know exactly what seeing totality did for me, but I can tell part of me will never be the same. Something about watching my expectations get shattered and replaced by something more amazing than I could have ever imagined left me with a sense of wonder that I hope never fades.
As the sun began to peek out from behind the moon’s shadow, we saw the incredible “diamond ring” phenomenon and watched as the world slowly became illuminated again. The beautiful thing about the eclipse is that after totality, you still have the amazement of watching nature return itself back to equilibrium as the sun takes back over the sky and day is restored from darkness. The tiny crescent of the sun was amazing, and we got to watch it grow larger and brighter as it brought us back to the day. The crescent shadows were also a sight to see as we witnesses the eclipse through the sunlight trickling down through the trees.
As the day became fully restored and the eclipse came to a close, I was filled with the knowledge that I had seen something truly remarkable. The energy and power of totality had the effect of turning my perceptions upside down and showing me an incredible new way to look at the world. I was filled with amazement and reverence for the earth and skies. In a way, it made me feel more capable of taking risks and making changes knowing that my mind often lacks the capacity to understand how great things can be. There was a renewing quality to seeing the sun get buried and reborn. Maybe on some level being a sun sign left me even more open to the experience (I’m a Leo on the Cancer cusp). The eclipse left a magnitude of energy resonating inside me in the days and weeks that followed.
Like nothing else in my life, the eclipse lived up to and far surpassed all of the hype. I can see why people scour the globe seeking these rare and reality-bending moments. As I finish this post, I find myself reliving the excitement of one of the most memorable days of my life and counting down the days until April 8, 2024.