Eclipse experience unites us
In “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” Mark Twain brings his contemporary protagonist, Hank, back in time to the year 528. At Arthur’s court, modern-minded Hank is taken for a strange, no-good magician, readily sentenced to be burned at the stake.
As he ponders his fate, Hank summons all his learning about science and history to enact his own rescue. As it turns out, he remembers that a solar eclipse is about to happen on his execution day, and with his secret awareness, he is able to soothe the fears of those who would see him executed, thereby freeing himself.
The novel uses a rare scientific happening, thrown satirically as a counter-weight against sixth-century superstition, to advance the plot. Last month’s solar eclipse was seen by many as an amazing scientific phenomenon in the celestial backdrop of our time on earth. But in a deeper sense, the eclipse was an opportunity in the plot of our national lives for deeper connections — a rescue, of sorts, from the divisiveness that plagues humanity. In that sense, the day presented a respite as profound as Hank’s retrieval from the Arthurian abyss.
News reports of gatherings on campuses and at science centers abound. As the sun and moon passed each other along a cross-country diagonal, devotees of the left brain converged at local institutions to marvel at this conspicuous manifestation of celestial mechanics. Shortly after the eclipse, observers filled social media sites with pictures of crescent shadows dappling every surface from patios to back yards.
There were also poetic ways to enjoy this rare happening. In locations where the percentage of eclipse enabled nothing more spectacular than a slight twilight feeling, many viewers watched the event unfold on television. There was clearly a strong social aspect to this scientific occurrence. People gathered in parks and stadiums, campgrounds and parking lots. There were tailgate parties and backyard sky-gazing shindigs. Some people were willing to travel to “total” eclipse areas like Nashville and Charleston. Those who did so found festive milieus buzzing with the excitement and good will that accompany occasions offering a shared experience of something deep and bigger than ourselves. Some of us were riveted to our television screens, watching crowds of people cheer this sudden and short-lived darkening of the midafternoon sky. Such an odd thing to cheer — and yet, what an antidote to the contentiousness that pervades so much of our discourse and interpersonal interactions.
Perhaps the subtlest bow to the social and scientific significance of the day were the groups of people doing large-scale meditations. Of course, there were no advertisements about this from scientific establishments or news outlets. Like other grassroots movements, this activity was planned and broadcast through social media, with the exact timing set to coincide with the eclipse’s appearance over Mount Shasta. While some might sneer at this “tree-hugging” response to the eclipse, there is a wealth of scientific evidence attesting to the personal, and even collective, benefits of group meditation and prayer. Anecdotal reports — again, through social media — recount the feelings of personal well-being that resulted from participating in the collective meditation. Whether any widespread benefits accrue to humanity remains to be seen. But for however long, the yearning for peace and good will to others expressed that day is a much-needed positive.
If scientific excitement was the purpose of watching the eclipse, those directly in its path got their effort’s worth — and maybe even their money’s worth. If interesting pictures were the goal, anyone outdoors with a camera hit the jackpot. Satisfaction of social impulses came from the excitement akin to a holiday, when friendly greetings replace our usual indifference to each other.
The bigger picture was glimpsed by those united in quiet, spiritual ways, who saw this celestial event as a focal point to concentrate their collective thinking toward improving human existence.
So mark your calendars. The next total eclipse will cross the United States, completing an X, on April 8, 2024.
And Buffalo is right in its path.
Renee Gravelle is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org