How Fast the Way Home

We departed in the dark. The kids spread blankets over their laps in the backseat. I clutched my coffee mug. An audiobook helped us pass the driving time, over roads that became increasingly crowded, until finally we rolled into an almost full museum parking lot. The museum sat on a large, flat field where families had already begun to lay out their picnic blankets and folding chairs.

The field was covered in dry yellow grass, and populated by shiny aircraft and lazy bees. We wandered around – on the playground, through the museum exhibits – to fill the hours before the big event, the total solar eclipse.

When we noticed a change in the quality of the light, we hurried back to our chairs. We passed people looking at the sky through glasses, cameras, even colanders. We walked as quickly as we could, kicking up clouds behind us, as we resisted the urge to look at the sky.

I gave out the glasses – three pairs, one each for the kids and me. We looked up, then, and saw a dull orange circle, like a copper penny, with the slightest interruption in its circumference. The moon had begun its intrusion.

The air was festive and chatty. Music played over loudspeakers, songs chosen for their kitsch factor – “Bad Moon Rising,” “Dancing in the Dark”- but a quiet rippled over all of us as we felt something shift. The color of the sky darkened to a twilight blue at the dome. The wind picked up, blowing my sweater around me. I shivered, and a thrill went through my belly.

The sun had but a crescent left. My daughter said the sun reminded her of the moon when it’s waning. A boy behind us called out, “The diamond ring!” Above us, a faint band of light circled the moon’s shadow, and a last, bright gasp of sunlight blazed for the blink of an eye.

A cheer went up as the moon covered the sun. The light was twilight dim. We pulled off our glasses and stared at the wildly hairy corona. Tears sprang into my eyes. I grabbed my kids’ hands. I know the eclipse is a truly scientific phenomenon, but the world miracle kept coming to mind.

I insist that it is miraculous and scientific, both. All of us people, brought by our curiosity to sit in the bee’s field on a summer morning, are miraculous. We orbit each other, sometimes touching, sometimes moving apart. Isn’t it miraculous when any two of us, among the millions that co-exist on Earth, share a moment?

The celestial bodies parted almost at the same moment they met. The unveiling of the sun was quick. Gone was the anticipation, the mystery. We knew where we would end up. The way home is always faster than the trip to the destination. Almost immediately, the sky brightened and we were warm again. There was no sign of the rare alignment that had just occurred. We turned ourselves toward home, and I still held two hands in mine.

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