Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Slice of Life Tuesday: Totality

We don't often think about the sun.

Despite its significance, it still manages to be a wallflower, blending into the fabric of everyday life. It only warrants a passing remark on certain occasions: a particularly beautiful sunset. A planned beach day, thwarted by its absence. A painful sunburn blooming across exposed shoulders.

We revolve around the sun, but most days, we feel like it revolves around us. To us, it only exists because we exist. We know it is remarkable, yet we think it unremarkable because of the simple fact that it is always there.

Until it isn't. Then, the sun demands our attention.

The day of the eclipse, we went about our routines. We went to school. We fiddled with lockers, unwrapped sandwiches, and sharpened pencils, but our attempts at normalcy couldn't hide the fact that the only thing on everyone's mind could only be found outside of our walls.

When the first fragment disappeared, it was as if an invisible current rippled throughout the school, bouncing from classroom to classroom. No one had to tell us. We knew, and we all wanted to look. Patience, normally a foreign concept during the best of times in a middle school, was nowhere to be found, but for once, we understood that we had no control. We had ignored the sun. It had waited for us to pay attention, and now that we were watching, it was our turn to wait.

When the time came, we clutched our flimsy glasses and clambered down the stairs and out the front doors. The humidity clung to us like a damp towel after a swim, familiar yet ultimately useless and annoying. But today, we didn't care. We were too busy watching the world turn upside down. Shadows were wrong, caricatures of their normal selves. The light was beginning to take on a faded quality, as if we had found ourselves inside a picture that had sat in the developing fluid for too long. We giggled nervously and used words like 'weird' and 'freaky' and 'strange' about the burning orb that usually elicited watery emotions like mild annoyance or slight appreciation.

As we spread across the football field and laid back on the manicured grass, we felt the air change, degree by degree. We eyeballed the glasses that looked like something you'd find in the back of a comic book, suspicious that something so frail could protect us from something so strong, but ultimately, curiosity won and we donned them, not caring about our ridiculous appearance once we looked up for the first time.

The sun was going. An unseen artist was painting over it with the deepest black we'd ever seen, stroke by stroke. Clouds stood out in stark relief, their borders sharper and more ominous than before. The sky deepened quickly now, turning from the sort of green you usually see before a tornado to a dusky lavender shot through with streaks of pink. Confused cicadas began their chorus, a melancholy dirge. The sun was going, and there was nothing we could do but watch.

We had been told what to expect, but they were all wrong. It was nothing like they said. No one could have found the words to explain what being surrounded by an endless sunset looks like. What goes through your head when you see a bewildered bird winging across the sky, his frantic chirps as if to say, "How did I miss this?" How you feel in that moment when you look up and see our most powerful light reduced to a slender glowing ring.

In that moment, our thoughts turned to the minutes we have had in our lifetimes. How some flash by you. How others drag, each second slowly tumbling over the next like pebbles caught in a slow motion landslide.

And then, there was this. One minute and fifteen seconds. This moment where time was frozen, yet hurtling forward much too quickly. We were suspended, our necks craned skyward, captivated by what we had taken for granted. We saw now that we were wrong to do so. We held our breath, and we tried our best to burn this fleeting moment into our memories. This feeling of totality. Of being here, yet also everywhere else where people were looking up.

As ephemeral as smoke, the moment dissolved. The first thin threads of golden light spun away from the darkness, and we looked away, finding ourselves wishing we could see it all over again but knowing that we couldn't. The sun had gone, but it had never truly left. Totality was not the extinguishing of light but the hiding of it, reminding us of the thin line between fearful awe and awful fear.

The eclipse had passed, but our minds would not be torn away from the sun. This moment will forever stay on the edges of our consciousness, pushing into our thoughts any time golden rays play beautifully on a dusty wooden floor, or a panel of light streams down between the gaps in the clouds and dapples the grass we are standing in. Now, we will often think about the sun, and we will remember that we revolve around it, not the other way around. When it is quiet, we will find ourselves in that state of totality once more. We will remember how a slight shift in perspective can change everything. And we will be grateful that we were there, looking up on the day the sun disappeared.