Just moments after the moon had begun its shift past its darkest point (98% here in Charlotte), people celebrating the 2017 solar eclipse at Camp North End here in Charlotte began looking around as if they pressed the Dr. Pepper button on the soda machine and it spit out an RC Cola.
“Is that is?” a slightly befuddled crowd thought in unison.
That was, indeed, it.
There was no blackout, no wide swath of darkness blanketing Uptown Charlotte, where I watched the event. That 2% gap makes quite a bit of difference, as people just 90 minutes south of us in Columbia and surrounding areas actually got to see midnight in the afternoon.
There’s nothing wrong with being a bit underwhelmed with the whole spectacle. There was an enormous build up on social media, and that brand of hype rarely lives up to its promise. I’m sure some people bailed on work and felt guilty that they missed out on prime work flow hours. All totally reasonable.
To me, it was a moment I’ll never forget.
In the days leading up to the eclipse, it was clear that this was the only story that was able to provide some emotional relief from a week’s worth of heinous images from Charlottesville. People slowly but collectively put down their differences in order to make plans to watch the eclipse. Google searches for specially-certified glasses and watch locations soared.
And for a brief moment on an otherwise hot and steamy Monday afternoon, everyone stopped what they were doing, gathered together in groups and marveled at a natural phenomenon that maybe isn’t once-in-a-lifetime rare, but definitely remember-where-you-were worthy. Snacks and drinks were shared while paper sunglasses with shiny silver lenses and necks craned high in the air made everyone looks equally goofy. Many people had homemade viewers, constructed out of cereal boxes, no doubt a memorable science project.
As for me, I found myself marveling at how the sun, reduced to just 2% of its strength, still lit our little part of the planet quite brightly, with the temperature still toasty. A testament to life’s indomitable will to live, I’d like to think.
It’s fitting that it takes an event of literally cosmic proportions to get everyone to forget about the daily grind of work, family, and world news and appreciate the natural beauty all around us. The beauty of giant, celestial objects intertwined in an unbelievably precise two step. The beauty of this display happening in a way that visibly reminds us of our trivial size relative to the universe. And the beauty of people of all backgrounds putting everyday worries behind to come together and enjoy it all.
Moments like that only come around so often.
I stuck around a little while longer after most people had cleared out of the boiler yard at Camp North End. Just as it had on its way up, I took periodic glances at the moon as it made its way past the sun. The eclipse was something I hadn’t ever gotten to see to that degree in my life, so I wanted to get the most out of it. With my corneas intact (as far as I can tell), I look forward to 2024, when the next eclipse makes its way through the US, and hopefully close to my hometown of Bloomington.
Until then I’ll always remember the random day in late summer 2017, where even a country that is as volatile and chaotic as ever, could come together, put on silly glasses and enjoy a natural spectacle.