My mom takes great pride that she got my brother and me up to watch several spectacular events in history. Apparently, I was up for the moon landing in 1969. I was three and don’t remember a bit of it. I saw it though, I’m told. And she got us up to see Princess Di get married. I have vague recollection of her dress and the music and watching it through sleepy eyes clear “across the pond” I would later learn to say. So it’s not surprising that last week, she made sure I knew about the Eclipse. She told me about the selenelion and how if I could find a good spot, we might be able to see the moon on the horizon as the sun rose to greet the day – an especially rare event.
“You’ll have to get up early, Ellen,” she said. “You remember I got you up for the moon landing and Lady Di’s wedding. I thought you might want to get up with your kids for this.”
“Uh… yeah, Mom. What time?”
“Well, it’s like 5 AM or something.”
“Yeah, right,” I thought. And then went about my day.
I loved astronomy at Carolina, and I really enjoy looking at the stars. I’ve secretly always wanted a telescope, but it’s so impractical because we live in a brightly lit city and I know myself and my life well enough to know I’d likely never take the time to haul it off to some dark place and really look at the stars. But maybe one day I will, I frequently think, so it sort of didn’t surprise me to find myself googling “eclipse time” before going to bed last Tuesday night.
“Are you really going to get up at 5 AM?” my husband asked me.
“I don’t know, but I have to know what time it is to even consider it, so I’m just going to figure it out and then see what happens,” I replied. I know he thought I was nuts.
I still didn’t know what I was going to do as I got ready for bed when I remembered a quote that said, “Nobody ever wished on their deathbed that they’d slept longer.” I set my alarm for 5 AM.
When my alarm beeped the next morning, I found it actually easy to get out of bed. My feet were on the floor at 5:05 AM and like a little kid at Christmas, I rushed outside to see if the sky was clear enough to see the moon at all. No sense waking anyone up yet if it wasn’t, I reasoned.
It shone brighter than a flashlight pointed directly in your eyes. I could see the left edge of it covered in a bit of a shadow.
“It’s happening!” I thought. And I came back inside to see if I could see it out one of our windows. When I saw that I could, I got even more excited because I wouldn’t have to subject anyone to the cold I’d bundled against in the chill of early October. I thought about my plan and literally ran back and forth in the still quiet of the darkness trying to figure out my next steps and when exactly I should wake the kids. Then it hit me.
I became acutely aware that no matter what I tried to do or how I tried to explain it, Catherine could not see the eclipse. By definition, it is something to behold with the EYES. It’s why we have telescopes so we can SEE teeny tiny specs millions of light-years away. I could think of no sensory way to convey the energy and excitement of a total eclipse with her. Even if I did it with the cliche of foam balls, the energy would be lacking. I took a deep breath realizing a little more deeply what I actually already know. I hate those moments.
I woke up Sarah and scooped her up to look at it through the window like sheer magic. We whispered quietly and decided we’d get a blanket and go watch it outside for a bit. It was our little secret. Like me, she awoke with excitement and curiosity. The more we watched, the more intrigued she became and, when the moon fell below the tops of the townhouses in our new neighborhood, we decided to move to yet another spot for better viewing.
We sat in the stillness, cuddled together in the blanket braced against the chill of the air. We talked about science and why the moon turns “blood red” and how special it was to be outside alone together. And thankfully, the joy of holding Sarah and watching this stellar event in the stillness of the early morning dawn eclipsed the frustration I’d felt only moments earlier.