Chasing the Great American Eclipse
A Mom of Three Flees the Shadow of the Civil War
It’s been one week since the Great American Eclipse, and already it seems like a distant memory. I had the honor of witnessing this occasion on its path of totality in Columbia, South Carolina. It was worth every mile and parental frustration, as I traveled by car with my three children to see it live.
The other byproduct of making this trip was passing through Georgia and Tennessee, as well as South Carolina. In some parts of these states it could be debated as to where the virtual heart of the South is located. However, I saw no evidence of the recent Charlottesville chaos in the diverse assortment of people we came into contact with during our travels — in fact, I was moved by the kindness in interactions between everyone we encountered, regardless of their accents, color, etcetera.
Traversing to the Path of Totality
My journey to chase the Great American Eclipse started over a week ago as I packed my three children into our vehicle and headed north from our south Florida home. As my initial goal for catching the solar eclipse was to make it to an old college roommate’s home in Columbia, South Carolina, I stopped to rest for the night at a Best Western hotel just north of the Florida-Georgia border.
This place was called Kingsland, Georgia and is home to Kingsland Bay Naval Submarine Base. I took the kids to the Chick-fil-A there to eat dinner and run out their respective wiggles in the indoor playground. As I sat down to eat a well-deserved meal after nearly five straight hours of driving, I noticed six young men sitting down across from me with their own meals. In near unison they bowed their heads and one of the men said an open prayer — although I couldn’t hear all of the words, it was enough to listen to a few praying for “peace in our nation.”
Perhaps it was presumptuous of me to judge them by their appearance, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were also servicemen at the local Naval base. If that were the case, I thought to myself, how difficult it must be to be sworn into military service to protect our nation’s interests, while also witnessing fellow citizens fighting over matters already settled by bloodshed, new laws, and fresh generations working toward breaking the cycle of hatred.
After a restful evening with the children at the hotel, we awoke to a full breakfast waiting for us downstairs. While sitting in the little lobby area, my eldest child began reading the front page of USA Today. It was Friday, August 18, and the Charlottesville incident was still all over the front page. The irony didn’t escape me that it that my family had visited Charlottesville earlier this spring to see historic sights, including Thomas Jefferson’s home Monticello, and I had not avoided my children’s questions then about our young nation’s past with slavery.
My son asked me about the Charlottesville incident (he learned about the Civil War last year) and why were there people who were defending General Lee, when his side lost to the Union in the Civil War? I blanched, then quickly told him in Greek to keep his voice down. I had already scanned the room and noticed very fair-skinned folks in the breakfast area, as well as presumably African-American folks on the other side of the hotel counter serving the hotel guests.
I then felt sick to my stomach. I was disgusted at myself for profiling people around me based on their skin color and for feeling the need to shush my child, who was asking good questions about bad circumstances. Fear.
We safely arrived in Columbia, South Carolina, by Friday afternoon with plenty of time to spare before Monday’s show. Newspapers were starting to mention the Great American Eclipse, and scientists were teaching the public about this upcoming celestial event and how to prepare to see a partial or full eclipse.
As I went to the regular fast-food places like Chick-fil-A and the local Krispy Kreme doughnut factory — many food retailers were running food and drink specials corresponding with the eclipse theme. Visits to the grocery store also revealed a holiday-like frenzy for certain types of food and overall high traffic, as locals stocked supplies for staying put on Monday. Schools and many businesses had the day off, while Columbia braced for the high influx of people from around the United States and the world, who were descending for this event.
Our weekend prior to the eclipse was also blessed with time visiting relatives. My sister-in-law just gave birth to my first nephew last December. She also has a daughter from a previous relationship whom we embrace as family. We took our children to the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden for a full Saturday and enjoyed every moment despite the heat and crowds — the kids knew they were with family and romped about from one exhibit to another. For a moment, home was where we were together.
There was also a University of Florida Gator Club gathering prior to the eclipse, so we took a boat ride on Lake Murray to visit the hosting family and speak with fellow Florida Gator alumni. Again, the crowd reflected different ages, backgrounds and races, and it was refreshing to discuss topics apart from our current state of affairs in Washington, DC, or Charlottesville.
The Great American Eclipse
All the professional photos and videos in existence couldn’t prepare us for what it was like to watch the solar eclipse unfold in Columbia. The moon officially started moving in front of the sun at 1:13.08 p.m. The actual moments of totality were calculated to occur from 2:41.51 to 2:44.21 p.m. It would end at 4:06.21.
Although the lead-up to the eclipse felt endless, the actual time from its beginning to end was an amazing blur. It was a time warp, like with a wedding or the birth of a child. The eclipse’s awe-inducing power also cast a magical spell over everyone around us, as well as far-flung people on Facebook. This mathematical genius of nature in action had many Americans suspended in a surreal pride that this was happening to us together. United, without fear.
Back to Reality: 1776 and now 2017
I can’t stop thinking about how wonderful it was to see the sun disappear through those special viewing glasses, having to remove them to look up directly at the sun without it hurting us for a couple of minutes and marveling at the sky’s 360-degree soft sunset in rose and orange hues, pale yellows and greens giving way upward to a unique blend of blues and violets to a flaring circle where the sun and moon met. It was beautiful. And peaceful.
Our nation is truly blessed. Understandably the quick advances in the past couple of decades in digital and internet technology have largely eclipsed the prior advances our society felt with the industrial age, the advent of motorized transportation, telephones, and television.
With instant connectivity between people and access to infinite information, we have found ourselves swimming in endless varieties of emotions shared in these platforms. Adding to the frenzy of unbridled feelings, people can’t put down their smartphones, even while driving and compound their road rage and lack of attention, fueling more dangerous and frequent accidents on our roadways than before.
It turns out that our nation is truly feeling its youth, and yet we are also feeling the fatigue of being aware of factions in our American society that are still as backwards as they were in 1776.
It is 2017 my fellow Americans, and it is not alright to have our news headlines or our daily conversations saturated with frustrations over what perceived lack of progress we have witnessed in our 241 years of existence as an independent nation.
My prayer as the Great American Eclipse came and went was that we can come together in our local towns and cities and cherish each other for the common threads we have and also appreciate the differences we have — we all have something to give to each other, and I believe that we are all connected in this Earth and can align as necessary, as our closest star and the moon did on August 21, 2017.