I checked the time, then packed up our picnic groceries and our luggage. Months earlier, we had booked the last hotel room in this tiny town not too far from Hopkinsville, Kentucky. This morning, we’d drive an hour to the path of totality. As I tucked away the last of my stuff, my cell phone lit up. I swiped to find another text message in a long string of failed attempts to get my sister to the right place at the right time for a surprise I had planned for her.
The night before, we had danced our tails off in the hills of Kentucky at a belated reception to celebrate my sister’s winter wedding. Now, we were ready for the crowning moment of our family weekend: The Great American Eclipse of 2017. The rest of my family and I had secretly coordinated for all of us to watch the eclipse at a camp where my sister’s best friend, who couldn’t be at the wedding reception, would be waiting to surprise her.
But as much as I tried to choreograph it all, the many moving pieces of the day (and our shared bohemian personalities) did not work in my favor. My attempts fizzled into a sigh. She was not coming. By now, we were out of time to make it to the other side of the expansive lake where my brother-in-law’s family would be watching. And if the heaviness of the post-eclipse traffic was anything close to what we were thinking, I may not get to see my sis at all before their drive back to the other side of the nation.
In the corner of our hotel room, one of my kids spun another in an office chair while the third yelled that it was her turn. They had been at it for days scrunched in the car on various legs of our road trip, staying up way too late with all the festivities, and sneaking doubles and triples of sugary snacks while we adults were chatting. Crumbs from a breakfast bar scattered. And so did my hopes of this being the idyllic day it was supposed to be. We loaded up and headed toward the camp. The kids poked at each other in the car and complained that they were hungry after going 15 minutes without food.
We arrived to a familiar hospitality, old friends scurrying around the camp kitchen. I sliced some fruit and spread peanut butter and jam across the healthiest bread we could muster up from the local Wal-Mart, then laid it out on the table to share.
Every few minutes, we stepped out from the air-conditioned building into the oven of the outdoors to check the sky. The sun was not going down easy. Sweat dotted our forehead, slipped down our noses, saturated our shirts.
Are these eclipse glasses the legit ones? We had a certificate to prove they were, assuming someone hadn’t faked the certificate itself. I put them on and looked up hoping this wasn’t the last thing I’d see. We had been over this a thousand times, how even a sliver of sun can burn your sight away. We held the glasses over our youngest daughter’s eyes to be safe.
A smile of moon inched over the edge of the sun. After awhile, I noticed the moon’s silhouette taking over. I could almost watch its movement like the tick of a second hand. Soon, we were marveling at the crescent of fire, the sun mimicking the moon’s famous shape.
It was almost time. I looked around the yard to call my kids together. But two of them were nowhere to be seen. The clock was ticking and they were inside playing hide and seek. I rushed in to fetch them. One was in a secret passage in the basement. You’re missing it! I grabbed their hands and their glasses and rushed them out to the grass to look up.
There in space, like a laboring mother at completion, like a baby crowning, like that ring of fire that brings a primal scream, the black moon cranked the sun open.
My glasses went dark, not a sliver of light. I slid them down my face and asked my sister-in-law if it was really okay to put the glasses aside.
I tipped my head back. Unveiled eyes, I watched the white flames of the sun’s corona sway. I had read about this, but in the actual presence of the sight, I stood stunned. Noises and words that I didn’t even mean to make came out of my mouth, like the crickets’ night song that suddenly switched on with the eclipse’s darkness. Around me…gasps, shrieks, shouts of awe. Every word came out like a question, not of doubt but of wonder.
Silver beading around the edges, glistening like dots of light cast around a room by a jewel. Sunset on every part of the horizon, 360 degrees. The air cooling. Venus showing up to see what the fuss was about. And all of us in shadow, either shouting or speechless.
It hit me, not as an intellectual thought but as pure jaw-dropping experience, how exact the size and placement of the sun and moon and earth had to be to set up this scene, for the moon to perfectly seal up all direct rays of the sun on the path of totality. In that exact place, at that exact time, we witnessed this cosmic moment that was set in motion in ages past.
The cosmos is a clock expertly arranged and calibrated. The universe is wound up and clicking with intention. The movement happens every moment, but I barely take notice until the celestial pieces line up and bowl me over.
The breathtaking movement of the corona in total eclipse is only a sampling of the glory of God. Creation itself is like the view I get through those mercury-colored eclipse glasses. There is a greater awe when the filtered lenses come down and I look at the Source. “And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed,” 2 Corinthians 3:11,18 says. The mishaps of the morning were irrelevant. I started the day out of breath with my ideals, now I was breathless at the sight of God’s intricate, unfathomable works.
It occurred to me that even with my untamable children scattered across the yard or hiding in the building on that one little patch of planet, even with my sister watching the crescent shadows on the ground someplace else and her friend sharing the porch swing with me here, even in our inability to choreograph things as we’d like, “we live and move and have our being” within the elegant, well-orchestrated movement of the universe.
“In Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
“In Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).
Order and beauty.
Before the moon finished grazing the last half of the sun, things came together. My sister and her husband and my nephew pulled up the gravel drive and we all sat on the porch with her friend (surprise!!!) sharing photos and thoughts of the otherworldly glory we just witnessed.
One year later and I’m still not over it.
[What’s the most awe-inspiring thing you’ve ever witnessed in creation?]
Featured photo by our friend, Johnny McClung.