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The Great American Solar Eclipse

The morning was cool enough to wrap myself in a blanket, more for the coziness than for warmth. I was sitting in my Adirondack chair drinking coffee and stargazing. It was a new moon and the stars burned like St. Elmo’s fire across the sky. Without streetlights or houses near enough to ruin the moment with light pollution, it was just me, the interstellar sky, and the crickets singing the one song they know on a loop. Rather than making me feel small and insignificant, seeing the far-away galaxies made me feel like a crucial thread in the fabric of the universe, a carbon-based sibling to the shining lights above.

Though we as humans have unraveled so many mysteries of our existence, there still is so much that we do not understand. Astrophysicist Neal Degrasse Tyson writes about wonder. Dr. Tyson writes, “We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out…and we have only just begun. The cosmic perspective opens our eyes to the universe, not as a benevolent cradle designed to nurture life but as a cold, lonely hazardous place, forcing us to reassess the value of all humans to one another.”

What should we make of this? At first glance, the universe as a “cold, lonely place” might leave us feeling irrelevant, immaterial. But that’s not the point Dr. Tyson is making. Instead, he’s saying that because the universe is vast and unknowable, humans should strive harder to find meaning in their short lives. The mystical laws of Nature should make us feel connected, not alone. It is our privilege to seek this cosmic perspective. It should inspire us, not depress us.

I’m guessing by now you’ve heard about The Great American solar eclipse set to occur on August 21. This is America’s first full eclipse of the sun since 1979 and it won’t happen again until 2024 (if you’re wondering how we know, it’s because we can track the orbits of the earth, moon, and sun now with extreme precision). The “path of totality” is a band 70 miles wide stretching from South Carolina to Oregon that indicates the best viewing positions. During the day, the moon will hide the sun until only the corona, the sun’s atmosphere, will be visible, sending massive streamers of light dancing across the darkened sky.

Ground zero is the place on earth closest to where the axis of the moon’s shadow passes closest to the earth and where the width of the moon’s shadow is broadest. Basically, it’s the best place on the planet to watch this phenomenon, and where you have the longest viewing time at 2 minutes and 40 seconds.  And for this eclipse, ground zero is in Hopkinsville, Kentucky!

On August 21, my family will be in western Kentucky, our eyes shaded by eclipse glasses, our faces turned expectantly toward the heavens. It’s far too easy in our busy, over-scheduled lives to allow these moments of pure wonder to pass by unnoticed. Excuses slip off the tongue as by default. I can’t take off work. Who will feed the dog? The kids are in school. It feels like another thing to add to an already staggeringly long to-do list. Why should we schedule in wonder when we can’t even get to the grocery most days?

I would offer that a life without wonder is a dull, lifeless existence. A life without awe is only the last page of a novel, without the uplifting love or exquisite pain of the story. Without the story, there’s no curiosity to find out what happens next. I want a life of discovery and magic. Enchantment helps us to find meaning, expands our worldview, our values and ethics, positively affects how we live our lives. When we experience life on a universal scale, it helps us humbly place our selfish or trivial concerns in perspective. Awe is a scared embrace, a kiss from the gods. It demands we be awake to our lives and the beautiful moments that create them.

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness for Women” and the online host of a yoga and mindfulness channel for Eppic Films. Send her a shout out at erin@theOMplace.net or play along at www.theOMplaceChannel.com.