The Path of Totality

Say you're living in ancient times, doing a little sheep herding. It's one of those glorious early spring mornings, the dew still on the ground, nary a cloud in the sky, the invention of smog not even close to being a thing. You're in a great mood, singing to yourself; probably some kind of Gregorian Chant 'cause, ya know, none of the cool music's been invented yet. It's a particularly swell day until... it's not. Something's off. Really off. It's the lighting. Or lack thereof. You take a quick glance up towards the sun--really, really quick because you're not the village idiot--knowing too long will have your retina's rods and cones doing handstands. You can't be sure but you think maybe something was partly blocking the sun. And then... yeah, it gets darker and the sheep are freakin' out. And suddenly... total darkness. You look back up to see the sun's disappeared and you realize, holy crap, you've either gone blind or the world's about to end. Either way, not good.

Okay, so neither reaches fruition; in due time the sun is back out, your sheep have already forgotten the incident and your vision's intact (to the point where you realize this tunic you're wearing could really use a good scrubbing). The only difference is the awareness that you've been living with a false sense of security right along. I mean, having just witnessed the sun up and disappearing for a few minutes like it was taking a restroom break would sure make me wonder what else could happen. Does the moon suddenly fall out of the sky and kill all my sheep? Will the earth open up and swallow me whole? Am I about to get word that the camera was invented and they have incriminating photographs of me looking too chummy with a woman of ill repute just outside of a local watering hole in a nearby village in the wee hours of the morn? (I got lost; was just looking for directions... jeez!). Bottom line: back in the day, to the uninitiated, unaware, uninformed masses, when it came to eclipses, they were left in the dark... literally.

Luckily, though, people got smart, did some observing. Took some notes. Invented astronomy. Through the centuries the likes of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and Newton made the scene, enlightening us all as to the wonders of the universe. The science allayed unwarranted fears as everyone now knew when and where to expect the next eclipse. And then, of course, astrologers, sensing there was a dollar to be made, convinced the public that the alignment of the stars and planets could help tip them off as to what their future holds. And that's why, today, you can look up horoscopes and see something as specific as a Gemini getting the heads up: "Expect a Leo to invite you to dinner tonight." Yeah, right, as if a sixth of the population--not to mention the other astrologically-assigned people with dining plans--are gonna be frequenting restaurants the same evening? Like that's even physically doable? I mean, by the most conservative of estimates that's over fifty million people in the U.S. Do these so-called seers even proofread their stuff before publishing?!... Sorry, I digress.

So anyway, the reason for this topic today stems from the "big event" earlier last week where the population, egged on by a saturated months-long media campaign, got into an absolute frenzy over the latest solar eclipse. It was all the rage, to the point where scads of people drove their vehicles hundreds or even thousands of miles, searching for a location where they could witness the moon totally obscure the sun, or as we all came to hear relentlessly, "the path of totality" (sounds like a food junky's take on being locked in a Costco overnight). And the TV coverage?... fuggedaboutit , major news anchors were there in force, starting in Dallas and then Little Rock, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Buffalo and finally, Burlington, Vermont, capturing the same "oohs' and "aahs", cheers and tears, all accompanied by words of amazement and wonder. It was like being forced to watch the same episode of "The Voice" a half dozen times in a row only without all the singing and corny jokes. And then?... it was over. Forgotten. Yesterday's news.

So what does all this signify? Man's ability to overcome, of course. When faced with the overwhelming fear of the unknown we choose fight over flight; we hunker down, and get to the bottom of things. We harness our brains to figure out every nuance of the problem and then tackle it head-on. And that's why, in this day and age, we no longer panic when the sun disappears. Instead, we celebrate it; we revel in it. And then, yeah, we put it to bed and go about our business. And not anything as mundane as sheep herding, either. No, we have factories and stuff. And offices with cubicles. And cellphones to stare at endlessly. Oh right, and smog. Don't forget the smog. Indeed, we've come a long way, baby.