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How to Stay Sane During a Solar Eclipse

InMarch 2006, I stood on a crowded beach in Turkey and waited until, at the allotted time, with a chorus of screams and cheers and whistles and applause, the sun slid away, and impossibly, impossibly, we saw above us a stretch of black sky and in the middle of it a hole, blacker than anything I’d ever seen, fringed with a ring of soft white fire. My heart jumped up to my throat, and my eyes grew hot with tears. I fell to my knees, feeling tiny and huge, and as lonely as I’ve ever been, but also astonishingly close to the crowds around me.

Totality — that point of a solar eclipse when the sun is entirely covered by the moon — is incomprehensible. Your mind can’t grasp any of it: not the dark, nor the sunset clouds on the horizon, nor the stars; just that extraordinary wrongness, up there, that pulls the eyes toward it. I stared up at the hole in the sky and then at the figures around me, and became gripped by the conviction that my life was over; that I was kneeling in the underworld in the company of all the shades of the dead. It was bitterly cold. A loose wind blew through the darkness. But then came third contact. From the lower edge of the blank, black disk of the dead sun burst a perfect point of brilliance. It leapt and burned, unthinkably fierce and bright, something absurdly like a word. I’m not a person of faith, but even so, the sun’s reappearance as the moon drew away seemed like the first line of Genesis retold. Is it all set to rights, now? I thought. Is all remade? From a bay tree, struck into existence a moment ago, a songbird, a white-spectacled bulbul, called a greeting to the new dawn.

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