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Eclipse '17: Was it all worth it?

Now that the eclipse has passed, it's amazing how quickly the moment got away

  • This image was captured with a 6-inch telescope and an iPhone toward the end of totality Monday.

    This image was captured with a 6-inch telescope and an iPhone toward the end of totality Monday.
    Geoffrey Ritter photo

By Geoffrey Ritter
updated: 8/24/2017 7:52 PM

We went outside and looked up. A lot of the details escape me now. "Take them off," the shout came from some unknown direction, and we eagerly threw off our paper glasses to stare at the hole in the sky. After all these years of mounting anticipation, I didn't know if it could equal the monumental expectations we put upon it. I didn't know if we would be disappointed.
What happened next already seems like a distant moment, captured by just a few strands of fragile memory.
Darkness came only as deep blue twilight, its rich hue bathing everyone in a crisp, almost filmy glow.
We wandered aimlessly and euphorically across the suddenly metallic grass, marveling like children at the ring of fire and the specter of Venus some distance away. We cheered cries of exclamation I can't quite remember now.
A streetlight clicked on. Someone pointed out the sudden hum of crickets. Suddenly, their deafening symphony was impossible to ignore. I forced myself to hit the remote camera shutter in my pocket.
Then it was over.
We have spent years discussing the science, the traffic, the importance of buying approved glasses. We became tipsy on this sudden gift from the sky, which in darkness assuredly would spread new light on all of southern Illinois. We devoted so many anxious moments to just 160 seconds of life, fretting over weather forecasts and cloud cover, wondering if we had enough gas and milk.
In the aftermath, it's easy to fall into a mild funk about the sudden and abrupt end of this. Yet on April 8, 2024, another total eclipse will cross our skies, this one charting a direct path through cities including Makanda, Carterville and Herrin. It will cast a wider shadow, and it will last substantially longer. It, too, takes place on a Monday. This time, we will know what's coming. We will be old hands at this eclipse game.
What I will remember of this time in the moon's shadow will be less than I wanted, but far more than I could have imagined. The fleeting moments of totality aside, we enjoyed a communal moment when everyone looked as one to the sky. This was a natural phenomenon, but unlike a hurricane or tornado, it provided an unqualified opportunity to look at our world, and the place beyond that world's borders, with unfiltered awe.
At supermarkets, strangers marveled together at the pending phenomenon; across streets and subdivisions, neighbors gathered in driveways and empty lots to view the curious ballet of light. My own parents, three decades divorced, spent their first night under the same roof -- my roof -- in more than 30 years in order to have front-row seats to the carnival in the sky. We came together in ways we didn't know we could.
Now, looking at the vast expanse between today and April 2024, I already look forward to that distant spring day, when we again will become lost in the shadow of the moon, and our little world in southern Illinois again will become that alien landscape I am sure I just saw.
Was it worth it? Did it meet the monumental expectations?
You bet it did.
I want just a few more seconds of time in that shadow. I'm not done with it yet. I want to hold onto it just a little longer.
And in a few years time, that's just what we will do.

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