Totalities and Priorities

I just read Jason Kottke's description of seeing the "full Monty" of the Great American Eclipse, aka totality, aka the sun turning black as the moon completely covers it up. I was a bit envious. It sounded like the once-in-a-lifetime transcendent natural-wonder experience everyone has been trumping it up to be.

The envy comes from some FOMO. My family had made plans to go camping outside the city and witness the totality, too--but a couple days before, we canceled our plans. We had really bought into the media narratives that had been swarming in advance of the eclipse: how traffic was going to be an apocalyptic nightmare, how cell phones weren't going to work properly, how basic services in towns along the path of totality (like restrooms and places to buy food and water) would be overwhelmed and unreliable, etc. etc. We'd had a stressful summer, worrying about money a lot and having emotional collisions with estranged family members. So we just looked at each other and decided: you know what? The whole totality thing actually doesn't sound worth it right now.

What we did instead: stayed in Portland, drove 10 minutes to a nearby park (no traffic, easy-AF parking, wide-open clear skies with a reasonable dotting of people on the grass), kicked it with some really good friends we haven't seen as often as we'd like to this year, and RELAXED (while still witnessing 99.2% of the sun getting covered up by the moon).

It wasn't a transcendent experience. Parts of it weren't even that relaxing, because of interruptions from our two small children whining and/or fussing with their solar glasses (and causing our cortisol levels to SPIKE before we hurriedly got their eyes protected properly).

But 99.2% of totality was still involuntarily-jaw-droppingly awesome. The uncanny way the light slowly turned dim and purpley, and then returned to normal. The tiny "mouse bite" visible on the sun's disc in the very first and last minutes of the eclipse. Hell, just the fact that I could directly look at the sun's disc at all--I'd indirectly observed a partial eclipse in school, but I'd never straight-up watched one with solar glasses before.

It was great.

But even better: it was chill. And in late August 2017, me and my family needed that more than a maybe-religious experience bookended by batshit logistics and stress. The eclipse was over too quickly, but then we spent the rest of the day and evening hanging out in our friends' backyard eating fresh tomatoes and cheese, drinking wine and beer, ordering dinner in, laughing and talking and kvetching and sharing and not-worrying-about-anything while our kids played, gloriously unsupervised.

That was its own kind of totality: being-in-the-moment-with-people-we-love. And it lasted for about 10 hours, not just 2 minutes. It cost us something; we did miss out on what sounds like a pretty freaking unbelievable experience, seeing the real full eclipse. But there's another one of those happening in 2024. I wouldn't change a thing about our own little Great American Eclipse story.