The eclipse approachs totality over Tuckasegee, NC - 21 August 2017

Date: August 28, 2017

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Why the eclipse is just what the U.S. needed

It was a week ago this hour that the moon’s shadow hovered over the United States on its 1800-mile-per-hour journey from Oregon to South Carolina. One in six Americans saw it in the path of totality, the partial zone or online. Although it may not have been a gold mine for tourism, it was a boon for science and discovery. It also sparked some long-absent wonder in a stricken country.

Between the distraction of the astronomical event and the metaphors it shaped for us, the eclipse may have been exactly what we needed as a nation. Here’s why.

  • It was overhyped.

Sunglass sales. Traffic forecasts, Weather reports. There was much more buzz about the event than actual sparkle, and some ended up disappointed that more people didn’t take the Monday off. So it goes in America.

The event itself, however, was a success. It did succeed in capturing the national imagination even if it didn’t fill as many pockets as people had hoped. Sometimes it’s good to be pushed to see past the hype and let yourself see what you want in a big shared event. (Looking at you, Game of Thrones season finale.)

  • It was value-neutral.

You may believe the eclipse was part of your faith. You may think it was a fun quirk of astrophysics. Maybe you were stocking can goods in a basement. Sorry if you’re disappointed we’re still here.

But there was no definitive religious, political or ethical statement to be made about the event that is exclusive to one avenue of thought. The fact that something could happen in all of America and not be divisive is pretty good right now. Thank you, Moon Goddess/Science/Harbinger of the End.

  • It was incredible.

Your correspondent drove to western North Carolina and chased the crescent sun around clouds until we stopped on the roadside in woods perched over a lake. A dark chill blew over us as the sky blackened, the land vanished and the birds fell silent. Just as suddenly, it was gone, and light and sound returned.

Anyone who caught a glimpse of the moon blocking out part or all of the sun probably derived some perspective on how small and alone we are. If even a handful of the 40 million watchers use the eclipse as an excuse to act less small and alone on the Earth we share, perhaps the sun won’t be the only source of light.

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