I went to Nashville with friends to see the solar eclipse in totality. We went to the Nashville Zoo because we thought we could see some animals freak out.
We settled on sitting in the grass at the Festival Field. It was hot and muggy, and the grass itched. There was a single tree in the middle of the field where people crowded under – the rest of the people were scattered across the field. There was a man with a telescope, always with a small crowd of passerby who stopped to peer over his shoulder. There was a young mother, dark-haired and sassy, firmly telling her daughter to put on her glasses. There were colorful moon bounces in the field, and children and lawn chairs everywhere.
A speaker system announced eclipse procedure: don’t look at the sun without your glasses, keep them on until you don’t see anything, take them off and look around for a minute, put them back on.
I was feeling hot, sweaty, and itchy from the heat and grass. I was also feeling a headache coming on from sneaking glances at the partial eclipse. I had probably messed up the timing of taking off my eclipse glasses, and I was a little worried.
“Is it getting darker?” One of our friends pointed it out.
The guy on the speaker system started counting down. Two minutes left.
The lighting was getting dimmer, except it wasn’t getting redder like it does in a sunset. It was like someone was turning down the dial on Brightness but not Saturation. Everyone got ready, turning their heads towards the sky, solar eclipse glasses plastered to their faces, staring and waiting for the totality.
One moment, I was craning my neck, trying to keep my glasses on, and the next moment, I realized the sliver of light was gone from the sky. Now what? I thought. I put down my head and looked around. It was blue and dark – a shade of twilight I’ve never seen before. I looked back up.
I burst out into tears.
I knew I was looking at something I had never seen before. There was a halo of light, radiating along a perfect black sphere, surrounded by blue – and yet, it looked like one celestial entity. It looked other worldly. It looked like a sci-fi movie, except it was real and it was here.
The people around me were clapping, and before I realized it, I heard an undulation of cricket chirps. The heat had dissipated. It was so blue, and so dark.
Why did I cry?
I don’t know.
Even as I’m writing this, two days later, tears come from within.
It’s like my body is responding to that instant of beauty, of wonder, of the unfamiliar, of the vastness of phenomena that happen in this universe.
My body was responding to the happiness of everyone around me, experiencing a moment together. I looked around and saw families in the dim blue, pointing and laughing and cheering, and I felt as though I was standing outside myself, looking at history happen. I was so happy for the children who would remember this, and for myself, for getting the chance to see it. I was surrounded by my friends, who were pointing and taking photos and berating each other for wasting time taking photos.
It was perfect.
It was one of those experiences that you might have to describe as indescribable: the beauty of a sunset, the love you feel for a firstborn child, a song that stirs something inside of you, amazing sex. It’s hard to describe in language what totality felt like. Better writers have tried and come close to metaphors to describe moments like these. Isn’t it a little silly?
We live, we experience, and we know that words will never be quite enough but it’s something we want to put to words, anyway. To share in any way that we can.
But there’s a secret I’m beginning to learn about this, that I want to share with you. There are a lot of moments that are indescribable, if you open your eyes and ears and heart to it.
Think about it – what if all moments were just as indescribable?
Don’t get me wrong – the totality was awesome, and only happens every once or twice a lifetime.
But what if the secret to the totality is that we let ourselves pause and drink in with all our senses – to see the colors of the moment, to feel the heat and coolness, to hear the life rise around you, to look at the people around you and feel like you shared something indescribable with someone else?
I’m learning that every moment can be like the totality.
I remember coming to tears on the New York subway, sandwiched between a pair of shoulders in the summer heat. Two young women sat together – both dark-haired, in dresses, one with a bag of diapers, the other with a little child on her breast. “This is a hard time for you,” the older woman said, matter-of-factly to the young mother. “But this is a gift, and you will get through this.”
I remember coming to tears as my doorman spoke of how they stopped him at 2am, on his way back from the grocery store to his house, because he had a brown paper bag with an after-hours drink. They were the police. There were six of them for one of him. He paid the fine they slapped him with, and met a woman who said, “They got you, too? I was on my porch when it happened.” I remember coming to tears, just because. Because I was dancing, moving, feeling a moment in all of its entirety. Because I was listening to a song and it was a moment full of meaning–meaning that I can’t describe in its entirety because it was a Gestalt of all the senses. It could have been that I heard a set of subtle wind chimes that were ghostly and perfect, or it could have been a voice or single word that plucked my heartstrings.
I didn’t always experience life like this. I didn’t really allow myself to. “Too sentimental,” I thought. “Too uncool.” “No one else does this–no one else tears up like this.” I didn’t allow myself to be moved by life.
There’s a younger, more anxious, and higher-speed Mona who, if she saw the eclipse, would be more worried about what she was “supposed” to be seeing or feeling. She cared that she wasn’t seen as a mopey sentimental girly-girl who allowed herself feelings. She would’ve seen a flash of the totality and then thought, “Cool, I guess.” No more than a passing Tweet or someone’s screen saver image. Secure in her unperturbed place of coolness, untouched by the world, safe from the world’s wonders.
On August 21, 2017, my eyes were open, my ears were open, my heart was open. And so I experienced totality, and it was kind of like this.