Totality: An Indescribable Experience

IMG_4787As I began driving early Sunday morning at 7am, I noticed the beautiful sunrise as I began driving East, North East towards Nashville. I noticed the steedy growing heating of the earth, the golden light that glissened on the earth, and the formation of shadows. With a little more intention I had been noticing the effects of the sun’s light on the earth. I had been doing this for the past few months. I had been looking forward to this trip for a while now. I arrived in Nashville that evening at 4:30am and was greeted by my good friend for many years, Fr. Michael Fye. We visited, had mass and mingled with the students at Vanderbilt University where he was chaplain. We invited them to our “eclipse party” on the terrazzo of the parking garage on Monday.

I woke up Monday morning with a certain nervous excitement, not knowing what I would exactly see today. I noticed the sunrise again and though, something different will happen to you today. I also imagined that lurking right near the sun yet invisble to our eyes, lie the Moon waiting for its big debut.

12:30 we went up on top to set up the tables, telescopes, binoculars and start welcoming people. When I put my solar filter on my binoculars, I saw what looked like a big bite taken out of the sun! Over the next few minutes, as more people showed up, that bite got bigger and bigger. At first, unless you looked at the sun with a filter, you could not tell anything was happening. However, around 1pm I started to notice that it was getting very hazy. More and more it started to get hazier and hazier. I also noticed I wasn’t sweating anymore as the temperature was dropping .

Looking at the sun now, it looked more like a cresent moon. With the binoculars, I could actually see the silhouettes of mountains and valleys on the moon’s surface. Then it happened: all of the street lights started to come on. From where we were we could see the whole city starting to light up. The next events all happened very fast. It got increasingly darker so much so that it looked like right after sunset. However, every direction I looked in it looked like a sunset, 360 degrees! I could hear the amazement and awe of everyone present and then up in the sky I saw Venus come out. At this, I took the solar filter off my binoculars. I would not need them for what would come next.

With a final wave of dark and an almost simultaneous roar of applause, we reached totality. At first it was just all dark but then we began to see the sun still active behind the moon. First the red ring of the sun’s photosphere where hydrogen atoms were being fused formed around the black circle of the moon. Then, one of the most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever seen with my two eyes: the sun’s corona grew outward from this black center; the moon remain a solid black sphere throughout the entire event. No pictures, not even the best NASA can put out, can describe what it was like in real life, seen with my own eyes. The corona was made of pure light, its the sun’s furthest atmosphere, which radiates the light and warmth to our earth that gives us life. I lifted my binoculars and looked at these with fine detail. They were like long streams of golden hair that slowly waved like a field of grain in the wind. Each of these small fine bands was probably longer than the distance from the earth to Saturn. Here, they looked so gentle and harmless, something almost supernatural about them. It was the closestthing of seeing something of the spiritual with my own eyes. I passed the binoculars around for others to enjoy as well. This was worth all the waiting, planning and driving.

Then suddenly on the bottom right hand corner I saw more and more light starting to come out. The Eclipse was ending. I quickly told one of the other students with the binoculars to put them down for the sun was coming back out. The flood of light came back to us and the black sphere was gone, hidden in light. The Sun ahad returned and we slowly watched it all happen in reverse. Just like that, all ending in only about 2 minutes. At this moment, the eclipse was just starting for some people further east than us. We packed everything up and Fr. Michael and I went to go get ice cream, not to see something like this again until 2024.

In reflecting there was so much beauty to those short moments. The interplay of light and darkness, the symmetry of the sun and moon, but above all the great symphony we are a part of. We will go throughout most of our days not noticing the earth is moving; we will gaze at the moon many times and think it such a stagnant thing even though by comparison, the moon is moving at the same speed as a rifle bullet. For one day, one brief moment, we saw truly how much we are in the midst of a constantly flowing yet perfectly coordinated harmony. Everything in its own proper motion and movements met up to show us that great design that exists in the background of everything. All the change and movement that is truly so characteristic of our world, has a design behind it. Even in our own lives, we can build our lives, all our hopes on fads, emotions, fears or what not. However, they all change too, we can get swept away by all of this. Our fears can overcome up, our thoughts and anxieties can uproot us. However, even as all changes and these things too will come and go, there is behind it a reality that does not change but holds it all in its hands. We build our life on that reality, God himself who is ever ancient and ever new.

Here’s my video of the experience:

Internation Space Station view of Earth during Eclipse:

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