Why Am I Not There?

“Eclipse” Chalk, Blackboard 42″ x 70″ 2009 Adam David Brown

I’m not at the totality today, and it’s been gnawing at me. Between 1 and 7 million people are estimated to witness this swath of darkness across the middle of North America from coast to coast. I live about an eight-hour drive away, and I’ve heard totality is a mystical experience, once in a lifetime. Your inner picture of the earth, possibly the entire cosmos can change. I’ve driven eight hours for far less.

I did see a minor solar eclipse once. I was in the bare boned desert of southern Utah, and at first I thought my eyesight was failing. As half-light settled, I realized it wasn’t me. It was summer…or at least a warm month…and I remember lifting a hand to block the sun. There was not a cloud, not a visible reason for this shift, buttes and palisades losing their sharpness around me. It had to have been an eclipse. The light was almost silvery. Even though I knew the basic science, how the moon casts its own shadow onto Earth, I still thought a little bit of the world was ending.

After several minutes, the white light of the sun was back to its blinding self. My sublime sense of dread had faded, replaced by a magnificent sense of motion on a scale far beyond my body on the ground.

With that experience behind me, I’d drop anything to experience totality eight hours away. I was born for this event, every cell of me made to feel the path of spheres through the sky, practically dizzy from the revolutions of my planet underfoot on a daily basis. When the moon rises, do you gasp, too?

So, why am I not there?

Today is my oldest kid’s first day of high school as his younger brother steps into 5th grade. I’d drop almost anything.

A friend emailed me, “If you can’t pull your kid out of school for this, then our country has really gone off course.”

But first day of school, smell of a new classroom, unfamiliar faces, and those known for years. Girls, boys, basketball court, cafeteria. Teachers you’ve heard about, and those you haven’t. Bigger hallways in high school. Lockers banging differently.

This part of Colorado where we live will experience about 85% of the full eclipse, which should be impressive, but I’m told nothing like being in the heart of it. That is what they’ll miss.

First days at school were passages for me. I was changing, becoming. Especially in 9th grade weaving through a crowd and looking up for room numbers, or listening acutely to the silence between the bell ringing and the teacher beginning to speak for First Hour. No homerooms, no fuzzy games or parachutes that we whipped up and down squealing. The spheres of my societies, my people, lifted off the ground and wove through each other, and I was not just this small person.

If it were up to me, I’d haul my kids to Wyoming, get them up in the Wind Rivers where we’d watch the darkness fall as if to an orchestral score. If this were the world I made, our lives would be nothing but this: transformation after transformation, eyes so bugged out from the epic tapestry of the universe you feel like alternately weeping and screaming.

I did not make this world, thankfully. Walking into the first day of high school is not less needed than totality. Who we are may have more to do with the smell of a cafeteria, lockers opening and closing, than the path of the moon and sun.

I’m just hoping they let the kids outside to stand in this strange light, maybe a little silver in the air for their first day of school.


Art with permission, Adam David Brown, http://adamdavidbrown.com/section/355024.html

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6 thoughts on “Why Am I Not There?

  1. There will be another total eclipse visible across the continental United States in 2024. You can try for the Wind Rivers then.

  2. “Silver” blanketed our Montessori playground today. Our kids gazed through protective glasses at that shimmering golden orb, “bug-eyed” and reverent. Cafeteria smells and upper el b.o. mixed with weeping and screaming, but I’m not so sure that was the sun’s doing. Kids wrote to their future selves about who they are on this day and who they think they’ll become by the next solar eclipse, they drew, looked at sun shadows on on cement and grass, and peered through cereal boxes. Kids made new friends and hung with old friends under this silvery (love your word for this near totality!) lightshow. Glad you didn’t take Jado to the Windriver Range. Epic first day of school! 85% totality and passage all in one! Twice blessed! Wish you could’ve been here rather than there.

  3. Beautiful thoughts Craig…your boys are very lucky to have you…You get it! about parenting…and I agree what a world we would have if we could let our children experience the universe as we see and feel it…a gift for all of us who understand this home earth. I was out in my burgeoning garden pulling weeds when the strange ethereal light fell…as did the temperature…I shivered and my skin was cold, as the temp dropped 20 degrees just so fast. All was still, my chickens trooped into their pen to roost, the crickets began to tune their tiny violins, quietly…not loudly like they do at dusk…the light was so hard to describe…my cattle stood still and we looked at each other…a butterfly sipping zinnia nectar…closed it’s wings, and the garden was pure magic…I felt cleansed after the sun regained it’s warmth…and the August morning continued on like it had begun. Lots of my friends drove to totality and said it was wonderful…some climbed a mountains and reported a spiritual experience, but I feel spiritual just being in the Wallowa Valley…I can feel the mountains breathe…and sense season’s change…I loved your essay…especially the way you describe the first day in high school…the lockers, the lack of a fuzzy home room…the lost child finding it’s way in high school…it’s a severing really… a lonely day and so important to have a parent waiting when it is over…to share and just be there…Good for you Craig…you have your priorities in the right place…How was you back packing in the city? What lucky boys you have. Sincerely, Janie

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