A few weeks before we moved to South Carolina, my husband and I paid one last visit to the Windy City and decided to check out Adler Planetarium.
As we strolled through the exhibits, learning about moon landings, space exploration and how the universe came to be, we came across one about eclipses.
I’ll be honest — prior to visiting Adler I was completely clueless about the Great American Eclipse that would be happening in less than a month. Thankfully, the planetarium got me up to speed. The next one would be on a Monday, August 21, and — hey! Look at that. Where we’ll be living in South Carolina was just outside the path of 100% totality. I pulled out my phone, snapped a pic of the map and made a note in my calendar so as not to forget.
I then came across a monitor with footage of people who call themselves eclipse chasers. On camera they shared how after witnessing 100% totality for the first time, they were hooked. Now they hop on planes and travel all over the world just to witness another few minutes of the moment again. For them, a solar eclipse was literally life-changing.
Again, I’ll be honest — I was skeptical. Sure, I thought, a solar eclipse is pretty cool. But is it enough to clear your calendar for a specific day a year or so in advance, spend thousands of dollars to go to a specific spot, and hope the weather holds out for a couple minutes to see it? I had my doubts.
But after 2:40 p.m. EDT this past Monday, I understood.
My husband doesn’t start teaching at his university until next week and with me working from home, we were free to drive south a little bit to see 100% totality. We studied the online map of the path and picked an elementary school about 20 minutes south of us. Students had Monday off, so we figured no one would bother us if we camped out in the parking lot for an hour.
We weren’t the only ones who came up with this plan. Upon arrival there was an older couple sitting in lawn chairs, three or four teenage girls and another couple about our age, with a fancy red BMW and perhaps even fancier set of binoculars. It didn’t occur to me until later how incredible it was that one short event could bring such a diverse group of people together.
We set out our chairs, slathered on sunscreen and stared up at the sun through our solar glasses. As the moon made its way in front of the sun we felt the temperature drop. The sky seemed to change colors but it was still bright out.
At one point my glasses slid down my nose and for a nanosecond my unprotected eyes were locked on the sun. That’s when I fully realized just how powerful our amazing star is. I thought if you looked up at a partial eclipse without glasses you would see the moon, but at the risk of going blind. Nope. Even though the moon was covering probably 90% of the sun at that point, it was impossible to see it without glasses because the sun’s rays are that damn powerful.
As the time for 100% totality approached, my husband and I held hands and kept our eyes locked on the sun, afraid we would somehow miss it. And then the last bit of light disappeared from our glasses and we could feel our world turn from afternoon to night. We took our glasses off.
Oh my god, I said as my hand went to my mouth in total awe. Tears welled up in my eyes and I quickly tried to blink them away so I could see the sun’s corona as clearly as possible.
I should note that the morning of the eclipse I was planning on bringing my Nikon camera to take a picture. I was on my computer, looking at what I should have my shutter speed and aperture set to. Upon telling my husband what I was doing, he said to me, “Laura, there are thousands of pictures of this on the Internet. Why don’t you just look at it with your own eyes instead of through a lens? It’s only going to last a minute. Just live in the present moment.”
I knew he was right and so I left my camera at home. And I’m grateful I did. Because every single picture I’ve seen of the sun’s corona does not do what I witnessed justice. No picture ever could. That moment is impossible to capture.
Time felt as if it were standing still, but before I could comprehend how short our time was, that particularly bright spot on the moon’s right side got a little brighter. I tried to stare at it a little longer, not ready for it to be over with. But it was too bright. It was over.
And now I’m here, three days later, still getting choked up about it and thanking God for giving me the opportunity to experience it.
If there’s one thing I’d like you to take away from this post, it’s this: Witnessing a 100% total eclipse is 100% worth it. The next one in the U.S. will be on April 8, 2024. That’s another Monday. So mark your calendars now and make sure you request time off in advance. Here’s a list of cities that will have the best view so you can make travel arrangements if need be.
Also, leave the camera behind. Unless you’re a professional photographer, it’s not worth capturing. Just trust me on this. The moment only makes up a tiny fraction of your life. You’re going to want to see it through your own eyes, not a lens.
Finally, don’t forget your solar sunglasses.