On Monday, I traveled in a car with a Republican, an Independent, a Democrat, and other people whose political affiliation I don’t even know. If pushed, one of us would have claimed Libertarian and another one of us Socialist. The youngest of us was twelve. The oldest of us was in their 40s. We were united by one goal: THE LINE OF TOTALITY.
None of us had ever seen a total eclipse. Our hometown was scheduled to experience 98% coverage and we were skeptical of driving two and a half hours to see totality. Nevertheless, we persisted, without a plan. We knew we wanted the longest possible full-coverage view without driving more than three hours, or getting stuck on an interstate. So we took off driving to Tennessee as one of us navigated the back roads of pig paths (a term I was unfamiliar with). When we got close to the line of totality, we saw a sign for a state park and pulled over. The state park was full, we were redirected to the overflow, a podunk air strip in the middle of somewhere Teneesee.
There we set up make-shift camp with 300 strangers. 100 of them had flown in on private jets. Some of them were in beat up, barely running pickups. There were pregnant women, there were newborns, there were those at the end of their life. There were Kentuckians, Tennesseans, Northerners, and Southerners.
And it was safe. The entry to the airfield was marked by make-shift plastic with a handwritten sign and a volunteer asking people not to walk out on the airtsrip if they didn’t have a plane. The twelve-year olds roamed free while interviewing folk for their YouTube Channel. There was no chain-link, razor-wire, armed guards, or riot gear. We were just there, one humanity, to experience together the extraordinary gift that Mother Nature was about to offer.
I’ve seen a lot of natural phenomena in my life. Moonbows, moon rises, sunrises, sunsets, dust storms, canyons, waterfalls, and all that God’s creation has to offer. None of it compares to a total eclipse.
At 1:31, the sky went completely dark. Folks took off their glasses and looked at the sun with naked eyes. There were oohs, ahhs, gasps, yells, tears, cries, yelps, and silence. The sight was so breathtaking, that hundreds of people let out emotion in whatever way they felt led, and they did so without judgement. For two minutes and thirty-one seconds we stood together. There was no male, female, black, white, or brown. There was no rich or poor, alt-right or alt-left, there was no straight, gay, transgendered, or bisexual, pro-choice, or pro-life.There was no Christian, no Atheist, No Muslim. There was just humanity, basking in the presence of an inexplicable phenomenon which caused the day to be night, and the sun to be viewed with the naked eye, and a 360 degree panoramic sunset of extraordinary and unbelievable colors.
On the ride home, we seemed changed. We seemed different. No one commented on the National Guardsperson, was a National Guardswoman, or the fact that she was clearly born in a country other than America. No one mentioned the transgendered woman and her partner who were in the car next to us. No one wondered what life on a private jet was like. Or, why the family next to us didn’t have enough funds to buy a car that like it ran. Despite our age, we spoke the same language of music. We listened to a podcast on breathe and life together. We tried, unsuccessfully, to explain our experience.
This Sunday, in the Episcopal Church, we will pray a prayer that says, “Grant, O merciful God that your church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name.” For those of us studying Track 2, we will read the words from Isaiah 51, “Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.” They are deep words that remind us we were all created from one place, one rock, one earth.
For just a moment on Monday, we were gathered in unity. We remembered we were all hewn from the same rock. We sat in awe, united by the beauty of creation. I pray we have the courage to stand in the light and remember in the days to come.