I spent a good deal of August 21st poised somewhere between fear and wonder. Fear that I was going to look upward with the naked eye and lose the sight remaining in these eyes of mine. And wonder at the sight, legitimately tremendum, of the darkness that crossed the Republic at a speed, beginning in Oregon, reported at some 2500 miles per hour.  
Fear, and living outside the path of totality, kept me mostly concentrated on the various media providing images and words of the eclipse as it swept over the land. And remaining there kept me in touch with a sense, a deepening sense, of wonder. I didn’t know it would happen, though I thought it might and it did, that when the darkness over Madras, Oregon filled the large screen in front of me, tears filled my eyes. And silence filled the television screen for the better part of two minutes. When does silence ever get that much space to stretch and make its presence felt in 21st century America?
And that is only one of the day’s wonderments. Adjectives were extended, lengthened, their syllables overtaxed to the breaking point in a continental attempt to do justice to what was being experienced. But the silence, and the cries of emotion, the hands stretched upward – these said it best.
Many remarked, after old Sol had taken up his usually uninterrupted course again that this was an event that invited us to know ourselves, at last, as one again. It is a measure of the divisions with which we hobble across the land these days that it took, truly, a cosmic event to get us to take notice, to look up, and to realize who we are.  
That rushing darkness, framed by ordinary light on one side and extraordinary on the other, spoke at least two truths to our hearts. The first: “We are so small.” The second: “We are one, integral, with the one celestial beauty of the universe.” Within the combination of these two whispered an invitation: You need only be humble to be the beauty you are.  
The runup to that day recalled the last total eclipse to touch this land, in 1979. I read again, for the third time in my life, Annie Dillard’s extraordinary essay on that experience, “Total Eclipse.” In doing so, I repeatedly asked myself why I carry no memory of that earlier event, though I had reached adulthood and was in college that year. This in turn opened a reflection on arguably one of the greatest differences between that moment and this, thirty-eight years later.
That difference is the entirety of the internet. It is that web within which we all move. It is the variety and the omnipresence of social media. None of this existed except in science fiction when Annie Dillard and her husband drove to the Yakima Valley to experience the 1979 eclipse.  
Today, that web embraces us all as a community united in the moment, in the wonder, in stillness. It has proved also, more than once, a web that grabs us hard and creates in us a community of sorrow, of anger, of disgust as we witness innocents die in terrorist attacks and as we faceoff from staunch ideological stances on left or right. The net reveals who we are, both for good and for ill. It exposes the most lovely notes of our caring as well as the most primitive shrieks of our anger and fear.
Usually, of late, we see mostly the worst of ourselves and our world in the fractured community the mirror of social media holds up to our tender eyes. During the eclipse we saw something else: a human community that is both aspirational and real, both tenuous and strong as steel, both linked to our Republic’s past hopes and, we can pray, uniting us in a shared future.  

[Image via the NY Times]

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