"A Total Solar Eclipse is simply the most wonderful, most spiritual, most moving sight a human being can behold during his short stay on this planet." How many descriptions of eclipses start out with flowery stuff like that, that just makes you wonder what kind of whacked-out, philosopher-wannabe astronerds these eclipse-chasers must really be? And how can I make a statement that's that strong, and ever expect any of its meaning to soak through to a complete umbraphobe? You can read all the stories you want about eclipses and eclipse-chasing in books and magazines, and they all say the same things: "Mortgage your house if you have to - it's worth it", "The first thing you'll want to know after it's over is when the next one will be", "You just can't understand it until you've seen one", and so on, ad infinitum. It's immediately obvious when you talk to a veteran eclipser that there's definitely a little bit of the well-known Harley-Davidson magic involved in chasing the shadow. The famous Harley quote absolutely applies to eclipse-chasing as beautifully as it does to any of the passions humans are prone to:
"If I have to explain, you wouldn't understand."
I usually take it a step further, though. With most people, you can relate your feelings about your passion,
whether it's motorcycling, skydiving, mountain-climbing, flying, diving, or just whatever, to something everyday
people can relate to - having kids! You just say something like: "It's like being a parent - if you haven't
done it, I can't explain it. And if you have, then I don't need to!" That kind of sums it up perfectly, and
there aren't too many parents who'll argue the point with you, either! (I never fully understood why that was until
I became a parent myself!)
See this, though, for an example of how far NOT to take your passion for eclipses!
So, why am I writing this? Doesn't it seem like I'm just preaching to the choir here, knowing that most of the meaning of what I want to say in this book will be lost on the uninitiated? Well, that's part of the point. None of us is born knowing anything, right? We all have to learn, to discover, to find out for ourselves just what things there are out there in the world, and filter out and hang onto whatever part of it we find is right for us. I wasn't born loving eclipses, and it took some serious maneuvering to get me to my first one. But, just like when I rode my first roller coaster, cashed my first real paycheck, or spun my first airplane, I knew immediately that I was hooked! This was something I never wanted to let go of! And I know there's another generation of unconverted umbraphiles out there, just waiting for someone to take them by the hand and guide (push, force…?) them toward the discovery of something they're, oh, "kind of" sure they might like. But I think pretty strongly that they secretly know it's really something they're almost afraid of, since they know it will totally consume them once they've been bitten. But at some point, the plunge has to be taken. There has to be a first time.
And in there somewhere lies one of the whole keys to being truly happy in life, I think: To be able to examine yourself and your surroundings closely to try and find things that will really make a difference to you, and then to have the courage to do those things, even (especially?) when it involves some measure of sacrifice to get them done. The enjoyment and fulfillment that comes from identifying, tackling, and succeeding at a challenge, even when others don't understand or even agree with you, just because you know in your heart it's what's right for you, brings a confidence and a satisfaction that I wish everyone in the world could share.
There are only a few things that do that for me, and I've done and seen a lot of things in my life, but I know that of all the "moments in the sun" I've enjoyed through the years, some of the absolute best have been when I was standing in its shadow!
Listen to me rambling during an eclipse (Aruba, 1998)
Listen to me act like a fool right before totality (also Aruba)
Eye safety when viewing an eclipse
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© 1998-1999 Dan McGlaun