My 2017 eclipse day had two breaks in the clouds, during which my husband and I watched the sun with a bite taken out of it through our eclipse glasses. The best viewing—most free of clouds—occurred while thunder rolled and drops of rain splattered haphazardly on our heads. We thought we would be underwhelmed, because we hadn’t been too upset when the clouds rolled in. We sat on the couch next to each other, answering emails and doing research on household improvements. It was companionable; the dog snored next to me, and the cat did a couple of laps through the living room to tell us she was hungry. We watched some of the NASA coverage on our computers and looked out the window, stepping outside to put on the glasses and look up when it looked like it might be bright enough.
Despite the quiet day and the uncertainty of the weather, it was stunning to see the sun partly obscured. It didn’t look real. All the photos we are now seeing on social media are utterly believable—even if they later turn out to be digitally altered—because the reality was so weird. First of all, how often do we actually see the sun? Just the act of looking at it—through special glasses—felt strange and dangerous. But then, to see it eaten away by some giant celestial cookie monster whose bite gets bigger and bigger—astonishing. Not part of real life. It made me think of Star Trek, which captured my imagination as a child far more than moon landings or even the Smithsonian’s Air and Space museum, a place I saw more than once because my grandmother lived in D.C.
Perhaps the best moment, however, was when the hummingbird slipped past us while we were looking up and sipped, unconcerned, from the sugar water feeder. Just three feet away, it ignored us; we were nearly as removed from its concerns as the sun itself. None of the birds were affected by our partial eclipse, to my relief. Cardinals and finches snatched seeds, hummingbirds fought in huge, speeding arcs, and the light dimmed less than it would if the storm had been of a different type.
How powerful the sun is, to provide that kind of light even when 93 percent obscured! The metaphor is inescapable: how bright each one of us burns, even when we’re distracted by ill health or busyness or the scramble to make enough money to live. How much light we give the world, even when we feel so very far from our best. Each one of us, a little sun.