Totality

August 21, 2017. Solar eclipse from Cookeville, Tennessee
August 21, 2017. Solar eclipse from Cookeville, Tennessee

We went to Minnesota without Ranger. It’s okay for us to leave for a few days, because his “other family” loves him, and spoil him rotten while he’s there. But I guess a few cheese snacks are okay once in a while.

We were in Cookeville, Tennessee, for the eclipse. I went through the motions getting ready for it. It was hot, in the 90’s, and we set ourselves up on an asphalt parking lot, having received permission from our motel’s front desk that we could not only check out late but also use the lot for viewing purposes. Fortunately we could sit in our car, in the slight breeze invading the front seat in between runs to the cameras set up on the embankment to check on the progress. Up until total eclipse, I was underwhelmed. That all changed during those precious two plus minutes. The magic of several degrees of temperature drop, when the birds start singing a different song, when there is a hush in the world, is remarkable. I happily snapped away with my camera, and felt a breathless connection with Earth. This natural phenomena allows us humans to feel our real place in the universe. We are dust, both now and when we exit the bodies we have been given. The trick is to revel in the speck of dust we inhabit and the spot that dust has landed.

Here is a sensation from that day: I was hot and sweaty throughout the morning as we set up cameras and tripods and waited for totality. Then it happened, and in that short couple of minutes I cooled off, but the sweat on my body turned sticky and dry. When we were done, we hastily got on the road to meet our travel deadline, but the dry and sticky sweat remained on my skin, an alien coating. It clung, a personal carapace, and I a turtle stranded upside down, bewildered, momentarily unable to right myself.

I had awakened in the motel room thinking about coffee, and hoping the stuff in the lobby was not only ready, an hour before the “breakfast,” but also good. I know people who are coffee snobs, and while I know good coffee when I have it (after all, I’ve traveled to Paris) I also am content with passable brews as long as they are not bitter. I was pleased, after padding out in my robe (got by with it, too, nobody in sight!) and finding the container fresh brewed and with real cream. Viola! My morning is saved.

We puddled away the morning, Darryl and I. We caught up on unread emails, our computer monitors glowing, blinking, reassuring us that family and friends were still out there. We drank more coffee. We polished the lens of each camera. We flexed the tripods, and selected the two he would use and the one for me. We got a late check-out time so we could dash back and unload some of our coffee and refill water bottles.

Partial eclipse started, and I remained unmoved, sweaty and uncomfortable. My new artificial knee throbbed. The sun started to burn my arms and legs, so I draped an old shirt over the camera and huddled there wondering why we were doing this. Even ten minutes before totality I shuffled my feet and tried to find a better position on my small brown camp stool.

And then, bam! It was the lens camera of the universe slamming itself over the sun. Somehow I thought about the house in which our youngest child learned to use the big potty in the bathroom. Jane was two, and completely aware of her small world. The two of us were alone for several days while the rest of the family went to a family event in Iowa. Her training stool was in the middle of the living room floor, which was temporarily stripped bare and awaiting new carpet… no harm, no foul, right? We had a clothes shute in the hallway, and suddenly Jane was removing not just the diaper she was wearing but the clean ones on the changing table. I watched as she opened the shute over and over, pitching a diaper at a time and yelling, “Down the shute.” She never wore another diaper. The slamming of the lens over the sun echoed that same final note…. yes, this is it! No more partial anything. Let me show you what a real darkness of the sun means!

The sweat on my body was suddenly huggable. I wanted to keep it forever. It was the reminder that we are part of totality. No more could I deny my mortality, be self-absorbed with the routine of getting the day done and accounted for. This was a sign I needed to remove myself from the constant hobbling about on my new artificial knee… it didn’t matter, it was there and I would not only survive it but start forgetting it was there! I was the turtle, upside down and flailing in the real world that had been turned on its head. “Down the shute,” with the angst of worry and concerns about most of my life.

We set off for Indianapolis, a far stretch for our old bodies, but necessary to meet our timetable. But it was suddenly no big deal. If we didn’t make it other plans could be made, phone calls made, other beds in which to thankfully cuddle.

I looked over at the husband I hadn’t expected or hoped for, the man who slammed the lens cap onto the camera of my usual view of the world. We smiled at each other, lost in our own totality.