Darkness enters in the middle of the day on a Monday afternoon and we stand still. We stand, some looking up at the eclipse, others, like me, watching the darkness creep across the horizon, dusk coming just before noon. Street lights and sensor lights on homes turn on and the wind, which had been blowing hard enough that we added stakes to our shade shelter, died down. Quiet.
Totality never entered my vocabulary until a few weeks ago.
My husband had been excited about a day trip to view the eclipse in totality for weeks. He had researched a spot to experience totality that was a drivable distance and that might have us avoiding the inevitable traffic heading home. He settled on Alliance, Nebraska. We had a cooler full of goodies, even a camp stove to make my coffee once we arrived at our viewing spot because his plan was to leave the house by 1 a.m. and drive the almost four hours at night.
I’m a sleep whore, and the thought of just 2-3 hours of sleep was worrisome, but when you love your partner and he is this stoked, you jump in with both feet just to watch joy unfold. I slept the first two hours or so in the car, waking when he turned off one main road for another and we were suddenly in a deep soup of mist and fog with a defroster that couldn’t keep up with clearing the way unless we raised the temperature.
There are many kinds of darkness.
I wrote to a dear friend a few days ago and confessed, “Janet, I think I’m depressed,” the very confession providing relief and a lessening of tension.
There has been a darkness in my universe since last November, and Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night,” runs over and over in my mind. I think of how I’ve raged, raged, against the darkness and I am exhausted. The older I get, the more I long to save others, dogs running loose in the middle of the road, friends who are suffering, family members who have experienced trauma. It’s hard to watch this social nightmare unfold, knowing that my influence is so limited.
I told this same friend that I have been unable to write and feel I’m starving without some form of artistic expression so I’ve turned to my camera and try to be patient with my still-learning fingers as they attempt to capture what moves me.
My words drop like lead and I sit, hands on the keyboard, knowing that I am holding back from all the things I want to write about: the state of our country, the increase in racism and anti-semitism, fear over losing protected land, the awareness of time moving more quickly, the knowledge that the aches and pains I experience now will likely not be resolved, but will instead become woven into my older life.
I suppose I can write about these things, but they are dark and heavy words and they are far different from the light-filled seeking sentences of my past.
The eclipse, totality, lasts mere minutes but is powerful in its brevity, both for the erie creeping darkness and silence, but also for the sudden brightness, as if the darkness was a joke, or it never even happened. There is a dearth to the light, a flatness, an oddness to the shadows, when the wind quiets, and the temperature drops and I am grateful for my sweater, scarf and long pants. But the creeping darkness is followed by a new day, a new dawn, a new beginning.
There were moments where we could not see the light, but it was there.
Dare I be so optimistic again?
In the days that follow, many talented photographers share their images of a sun covered entirely by the mood with a corona so bright that even though it is safe to view without glasses, the light is sharp and hurts. The light comes, as we knew it would, but it startles in its suddenness and everyone gathered applauds and we wonder, did this really happen? I experience a complex series of emotions and realize I have been taking photo after photo of the faces of those I love and the shadows and coming darkness. I could not capture the oddness of the light that is almost monochromatic. There is a startling lack of contrast.
As I later edit the pictures of the faces of my husband my daughter I feel something different, just a tiny tug of a memory, and it is joy. Peace. Behind the darkness was a shining glimmer of life, of what matters.
So I, too, let go for a moment of the darkness.