Months ago, I blocked off on my calendar a few hours to watch the eclipse from the parking lot of my office. As the day approached, the excitement across the country really increased, as the available eclipse glasses decreased. By Sunday, it appeared there were no glasses available, and I resigned myself to experiencing the eclipse at Sternberg Museum of Natural History in Hays, which was going to have a direct feed from NASA (or so I understood).
On Sunday morning, in Sunday school class, we watched a “Ted Talk” (Ted.com) about the eclipse. In it the presenter made the case that you owe it to yourself to see a total eclipse sometime in your lifetime, that it is an event that can only be fully experienced by seeing and feeling it in person, and that this upcoming eclipse could be the last opportunity for some of us.
In the last month or so, I have heard the song “On Eagle Wings” too many times — all at funerals. At least a few of them were unexpected funerals — people dying in the prime of their life, before their time (at least according to me). There were other reminders as to the fragile nature of life. All of them were overwhelming.
So early Monday morning, after thinking about the Ted Talk, I made the decision to join my wife, Barbara, and our middle son, Ben, and drive to central Nebraska to experience the total eclipse of the sun.
We did not have glasses, despite our search, but I recalled from my youth that we used negatives from film to create a filter. Luckily, we found some old photographs with negatives. On the way to Nebraska, my son built three sets of “glasses” for our viewing.
We located a dirt road in central Nebraska, just off of U.S. Highway 183. We pulled off and quickly ran into others from the Hays area. We eventually stopped with some friends of my son.
At this site where we stopped, we ran into some other people who had three extra sets of glasses they freely gave to us (so I still have my eyesight). We donned them, and then at about 12:30 p.m., the event started in full swing.
We knew we would experience the total eclipse for just more than two minutes. It seemed odd we would drive three hours for such a short experience.
Let me share with you what happened. About 15 minutes before the total eclipse, the colors started changing. (I took photographs and in reviewing them later, the colors got deeper and richer.) It began getting darker. A cool breeze kicked up from the south, swallows suddenly came out, as if it was dusk. The sun still was too bright to look at without the protective glasses.
Suddenly it was the full eclipse. The wind stopped. There was no noise — silence — except crickets began chirping, as if it were night. All around us, for 360 degrees, the whole horizon looked like a sunset. Shadows disappeared. It was dark. We could see stars and planets in the sky.
But it was the silence, and stillness, that were so breathtaking. I felt little, and awed, by the universe.
Then it was over. The sun peaked out on the right side of the moon; the light again enveloped us. Everyone began clapping and talking excitedly, as the silence was broken. The warm breeze picked up. The temperature began climbing.
On the way home, my wife, my son and I realized we had shared something very special with each other, individually and with nature.
We all have “eclipse” opportunities in our lives, and it is so easy to pass on them. It is so easy to say, “I am too busy,” or, “There will be another chance.” As I have been reminded recently, that is not always true.
Sept. 4 is the anticipated birth date of my first grandchild (“Fred,” as I have named him, with no input from his parents!). His father, my son Dan, knows we have some business and travel plans around that time. He asked recently, “What if ‘Fred’ decides to come early, what about your work and travel plans?”
As I told him, my plans can all be changed. Fred gets born once, and I am going to be there. I am not going to wait for the next time. Fred is the next “eclipse” that I will not miss.
We all have “eclipse” opportunities that come up in life. Please seize those moments to be with your family. The rest of life can wait.
Randy Clinkscales founded Clinkscales Elder Law Practice in 1985. He is a 1980 graduate of Washburn Law School and has represented clients at the administrative, county, state and federal levels.