Looking Up


The office took a forty five minute holiday in order to view the eclipse of the sun. The Boss-Lady even provided the appropriate protective eyewear. It’s times like these that I love this company: setting aside time to acknowledge phenomena of the wider world is one of those things that is easy to dismiss as Not A Work Activity, but all work and no play makes for a dull life. 

We weren’t the only ones to have this idea. Emerging onto the roof of the fifth floor garage we joined an assorted gathering of other building tenants milling about and gathering in clumps to look up into the sky, everybody sporting the cardboard solar glasses like a 1950s audience in a 3D movie. With the glasses on, it was possible to see the sun and nothing else. With free glasses off, it was possible to see everything except the actual eclipse. 

The eclipsing sun looked like a red banana. As it reached its peak, I could feel the change in the light on my skin more than I could see it with my eyes: even in an eclipse there is that small part of my mind gauging the likelihood of a sunburn. We weren’t going to get to see the totality, but that didn’t matter: we could see enough.

I spent a long time starting at that glowing crescent and contemplating the fact that I was looking at an alignment of cosmic bodies that ordinarily I wouldn’t give a second thought. How eerily convenient to have a sun that is four hundred times bigger than the moon and to also be four hundred times farther away so that they appeared to be exactly the same size. How strange to think that I was looking at the sun, a star, in the shape of a moon, because of the moon. 

Stranger still, how strange to see grown adults craning their necks like big kids, trying to get a glimpse of this cosmic moment. Some had even made their own cardboard box pinhole cameras. Down below, on the roof of the building next door, a middle school was on lunch break and the kids were sitting outside to eat. Not one of them looked up. Not one of them had a homemade pinhole camera. No one wore sexy, sexy cardboard solar glasses. I suspect that this was more the result of dire threats about loss of vision than lack of interest. 

Still, it was nice to have a moment of philosophical contemplation about the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. A minute of time to consider our present address in the cosmos and the fleeting, whirling, dervish of the universe beyond our daily lives. 

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on August 21, 2017.

One Response to “Looking Up”

  1. I did not trust the cardboard glasses being offered and feared there would be reports of eye damage in months to come. Yet, I saw footage of people viewing past eclipses with different devices like welding masks and sheets of what looked like X-ray plastic (the kind you see at dental exams) in the hands of presidential people in the black and white TV days. I wonder if that was for nuclear bomb viewing.
    I also had a deja vu moment in which I swore I had begged family to pick up some eclipse glasses for a previous eclipse because I was unable to get to the store with my work shift.
    I made a few cardboard viewers, some with the pin holes and larger holes in the foil bits. And, due to cloud cover and extreme humidity, the experience was lousy. And, seeing a pinhole of light change feels like being a kid with plastic binoculars that have no range and came with a toy backpack. I felt stupid.
    As close as I could get to “totality” was a gray, stormy sky that was hardly dark enough to be unusual. I finally just aimed my digital camera at the sun without any filters and took my shot. If you look closely, you can kinda see the moon partially over the sun. But, it’s not a great photo, by far. I was not in a good mood settling for TV footage. But, I took a few TV screen photos just to book the moment. Sigh.
    Better luck in 2024 and beyond.
    [I watched a video from July 1991 when there was a total eclipse in Baja, California, apparently, and the viewers captured it several ways with scopes and cameras, claiming they could see planets, as well. Lucky ducks.]

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