It’s more than just looking up into the sky at a celestial event—at least it can be. Tomorrow’s total, solar eclipse, as fascinating a sight as it will be, is an opportunity for us in its path to look away from ourselves into the face of a universe that eclipses us all.
The last time a total eclipse took such a path across the United States was during World War I. Our nation seemed to have little time to pause. The war had been raging for four years, and daily headlines were dominated by stories of loss, woe, and prayers for resolution. Just two days before the eclipse, 5,000 Americans were killed during The Battle of Belleau Wood.
As the moon shadow drew its path across the states, however, the country was offered a momentary respite from the concerns of the terrestrial sphere. For a time, the world was small, and a fragile comfort rose from the knowledge of the great beyond. For a few days, the headlines were broken up by news of an event needed no man to occur.
Even though totality was not observable from Paducah, the city was treated to a partial eclipse when, a little after 6:30 PM, the moon covered three-fourths of the sun. “Smoked glass bits were in demand Saturday by virtually all Paducahans who were anxious to view the eclipse,” said The News Democrat. “Amateur astronomers were busy early in the afternoon. By the time that the moon covered one half of the portion of the sun, large groups of individuals using smoked glass were numerous in both the residential and downtown district.”
Tomorrow, the scene in Paducah will no doubt be similar. And in 2017, even though we may not be in the midst of a world war, we are beset by the concerns, woes, and afflictions of humankind. Perhaps, as the cosmic ballet delivers its show to our seats, we too can look away from the bonds of terra firma and see, for a moment, our place among the great expansion of universes and galaxies and find that fragile comfor