Perhaps this sounds heretical, but it’s all relative. And, the irony is that what I’m about to say is protected by the First Amendment!
Truth is, I don’t love my country or, more accurately, I don’t love just my country. I love them all, and everything in between.
I love their physical landmarks and their people who are sincere, kind and loving.
The earthly places where I can’t imagine living, like the blazing Mojave Desert, freezing Siberia in January and the gurgling (and stinky!) key features of Yellowstone National Park.
But ask any dung beetle, banished Russian or junior grade National Park Service Ranger and we might all be surprised at the fondness in their hearts for the place they call home. I know what I’m talking about here.
Having been raised in 1970’s southwestern Pennsylvania steel country, at one time or another every year it felt like bone-chilling Siberia, or hot (albeit humid) desert there. And it had a year-round effluvium that would assure any self-respecting dung beetle of its chosen form of refuge for life.
In the larger picture, I don’t consider our planet solely in terms of my country or yours, even if you don’t feel the same way. But it’s a fact that, like it or not, for better or worse, we’re all linked, married, if you will, for the greater good of each of us rides on each of us.
Though it’s too much for any single person to contemplate achieving alone, together it’s doable. And that social fabric that is required for humanity to make all things possible exists within, you guessed it, the network of countries we’ve created, our international handiwork.
I love our planet, its ups and its downs, and rounds and rounds. Brilliant sunsets and startlingly clear night skies and eclipses that occur with clockwork precision and, of course, us. Humans, that is, the ones smart enough to invent the concept of calendars and clocks. The ones who are deferential, observant and wise enough to grant the Universe its due.
Our ability to predict natural phenomena “down here” on Earth like droughts , floods and hurricanes. “Up there” we can foresee meteor showers, determine the composition of our planetary neighbors, their distance and their suitability for human life. Oh, yes, and eclipses.
Today’s human developments, whether made through electron microscopes or via the Hubble Space Telescope, carry with them the responsibility to preserve, if not our humanity, then at least the Earth.
For the Earth is not ours, we are merely it’s humble stewards. And for all our human inventiveness, from supersonic jet airliners to nuclear power, nothing mankind can develop now can outdo Earth’s might.
Still, I can’t help but feel that, despite our better judgment and unprecedented knowledge, mankind is hesitating at a crossroads through which our chosen direction is in question.
How can this be? What has led us to choose between surviving or thriving. How could continued success in sustaining our humble selves – and not destruction of it all – even be an option?
The answer, to me, is tantamount to a global version of the bratty kid who, upon realizing he has no safe moves left on the chess board upends the entire game board and stomps off. The childish mind behind such an outburst believes “If I can’t win, I’ll make sure nobody wins.” And so it will be, unless we have the fortitude, the sheer guts to stand out against it until we prevail.
This, I believe, is where the individual can be a force for change, and to redirect us all down a path of positivity and possibility. It’s perhaps the most difficult, seemingly futile undertaking we’ll ever face.
But that doesn’t stop many of us from trying, and those are the people with whom I share a true affinity. In an earthly sense, they are my real brothers and sisters, and few events allow everyone to experience this familial bonding like our recent, total lunar eclipse.
So many grand, natural displays of power and magnificence our planet displays, as if for our own enjoyment, that we forget the opportunity to set aside our human magnanimity so that we may all feel humbled by the experience. To remember and hopefully regain some of the lost deference that served our pre-human ancestors so well.
In my mind, an eclipse is among the best opportunities for us to accomplish this. On paper, the concept is understandable, all right. But, in reality, the daytime sky becomes a canvas, patiently crafting an indescribably marvelous scene before our very eyes that none of the greatest masters could replicate.
If a typically blue, sunny sky comprises the primary colors, then a solar eclipse is the unique blending of them.
Looking up to the moon and the sun coming together, we begin painting a picture that’s unique to each of us in our mind’s eye. It’s hard not to feel our humanity as we witness this, an event that struck both wonder and fear into our earliest ancestors.
Though this entire event is a humbling experience, a still grander albeit fleeting image is about to emerge. Suddenly it occurs - the Moon and the Sun and the Earth come together, pulling us into the picture, right here where we stand to create a mind-blowing celestial conspiracy. For a moment, we can remember what it feels like to think of Earth as “ours,” and maybe we’ll take away some accountability for what we do with our all-too-brief time here.
If, after being so privileged to witness this wondrous spectacle, you don’t feel humbled at your place on this planet, in this Universe and among all the indescribably beautiful galaxies lying unimaginably great distances beyond, you may wish to check your pulse.
For, despite the powerful charge I still feel from witnessing our recent eclipse, one that is uniquely mine but, on a human level is neither right nor wrong, greater or lesser than your own.
There is more, much more than human civilization can ever hope to grasp from an eclipse that allows all of us to take at least something away from it, something that somehow and in some way leaves us better for it.
As one witness was heard to say, tears still running down her cheeks “It was the best two minutes of my life.”
They could have been my words, and they could have been yours. For perhaps the first time in my life I spoke those words, I didn’t shout them with utter joy. There was too much significance in what I’d just seen, and what was slowly sliding away that I, all at once, found myself so calm yet so breathless.
The tide was turned, the shoe was on the other foot, and every other cute, human metaphor applied to that scene.
For my part, I found myself a kid once again, yet in a grown man’s body, an innocently enrapt child in a worldly wise, fifty-something mind.
Entering that mind came a memory: Playing with marbles as a kid, I remember looking down to the floor as I flicked them with my thumb, one clicking into another.
Watching the eclipse, I felt myself standing atop one of those same marbles, this time looking up at them. Then, just for a moment, I realized the marbles were playing me! Like Life itself, however, it was a game that ended long before I was ready to quit playing.
But, like the handful of marbles I once so easily set aside and left behind in search of other amusements, so too the moon’s shadow left me in search of others to amuse, and to be amused by.
And that about says it all: I got a visit from a muse, all right. The inner child that once was me made his presence known, then whispered into my ear words I’d longed to hear for decades.
He reassured me that everything I’ve ever said and everything I’ve ever done, to anyone I’ve ever known and anyone I’ve ever loved, and to those I still hold dear in my heart is okay.
He encouraged me to accept it and to embrace it, for I’d done-and still do-the best I can with what I know. Over the years, he said, your judgment and wisdom has only grown. Remember, you’ll never be perfect, but you can always be better.
Finally feeling closure, my healing can begin, and past can become future joy once again.
A fleeting glimpse into my childhood heart brought me enough of a reminder of the world as I once thought, I once hoped, I’d create for myself all along. All because of that eclipse.
Who would’ve thought I’d see that little boy once again, in a sudden shadow that sped through the afternoon sky on a warm, sunny, late August day?
“Did I really just see what I think I saw?” I wondered out loud to Sophie, my service dog and confidante.
Then the cooling breezes began and, for several minutes, took the edge off the heat of the day. It shook me gently from the spell I’d been under for the past two hours.
Yes, it was real, all right, and I’m ready to move forward in life, confident in the knowledge that, even though I hadn’t provided my inner child, the little boy I’d once been, with the exact life I’d imagined, free of pain and full of joy and wonder, I’d done well by him nonetheless.
My world today is laden with scars, inside and out. In the words of a songwriter, “Scars are souvenirs you never lose, the past is never far.”
Scars don’t have to be reminders of past nasties. My eclipse experience brought forth reminders that, in my past, I also have joyous and wonderful, humdrum and mundane, and otherwise neutral memories. Those are the memories I don’t ever want to lose.
Such moments are every bit as much a part of my story as any other, and hold their rightful place in my heart ❤️.
All this, and so much more still, inspired solely due to the passing of the moon before the sun on an arbitrary day in August, 2017. And the thoughts keep coming. With luck, I can get them down as fast as they arise, though I’m working at a success rate of about fifty-fifty.
The eclipse occurred days ago and literally lasted for but a second. But figuratively, in my mind where it matters most, it will last forever.
Thank you, Universe for, within your momentary darkness, you’ve helped me find perpetual light. If I didn’t know it before, I’m well aware of it now: I owe everything I am to you.
As I said, eclipses are as indescribably beautiful as they are an exercise in humility. If you haven’t yet, with luck you will find out for yourself.
Share what you learn with someone close, then remember your place in the Universe is an important one. Look out for those who want to kick the game board and send the pieces flying. We’re all in this wonderful world together.