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All the hooplah began several months ago, and it has only grown ever since. And now the great moment is almost upon us. Monday is the big day.

The Great Eclipse, reportedly the first total solar eclipse visible in only the United States since 1776. (I didn’t fact-check that item after hearing it, so I’ll just assume it’s correct. The news media would never lie about something so momentous, would they?) This eclipse is such a big deal that two local universities have scheduled special events on their athletic fields to commemorate it. And the public schools delayed their official start to the new school year and private schools scheduled half days because of the liability involved if some kid happened to look at Mr. Sun with unprotected eyes.

So big that area hotels are charging exorbitant rates for lodgings. So much that a few people in outlying rural areas are setting aside and camping space in their fields (and charging fees) for visitors who are willing to “rough it.” All for a chance to see a spectacle that will last, in its climax, less than two minutes. Restaurants and bars will rake in big, too. Maybe even a few eye doctors.

And we locals will be inundated with an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 additional drivers on our roads. If you’re at all familiar with our Woodruff Road area (which, by the way, is currently undergoing the largest road construction project in the state), you know what a dream that is on even a normal day. Add an eclipse with all the sun-worshipers, and you have a full-blown nightmare. The experts predicted so much traffic congestion in the area that the schools that had originally schedule half days suddenly decided to cancel school altogether.

As you might have inferred already, this event is a non-event to me. Being sort of a laid-back kind of guy, I never got excited about school pep rallies; why should I get excited about the moon’s passing between the sun and the earth?

But I have been thinking about it. How can one help not doing so when that’s the first and last thing every newscast discusses? It’s the topic of every coffee pot and water-cooler conversation.

If it’s true that this is the first time since 1776 that the total eclipse has been visible only in the United States, it makes me wonder. Back in that day, the eclipse came at the beginning of the end of the British Empire. The American colonies declared their independence and then spent the next seven years or so winning it. From that point, was a long, downhill slide for the Brits. Does this 2017 eclipse, 241 years later, portend anything so momentous? For America?

When I was growing up in rural East Tennessee, many of the farmers paid a lot of attention to the signs in the heavens, faithfully and predictably scheduling their various agricultural duties according to them. A common sight in every farmhouse was a calendar that showed the signs of the planets and the phases of the moon. The farmers swore by them, and their lush gardens and farmlands seemed to bear them out. I didn’t pay much attention to them. I was just a kid, after all. But then I read in the Genesis account of Creation that God made the “lights in the firmament of the heaven . . . for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.” And, by the way, they also were to “give light upon the earth . . . to rule over the day and the night” (Gen. 1:14-18). Maybe those old farmers were onto something after all. I wonder what their calendar says about this Great Eclipse?

There’s nothing I can do about the eclipse. It’s coming. I can’t delay it. I can’t hasten it. I can’t make that one- to two-minute climactic moment of totality last a second longer than it’s already destined to last. And life will go on afterward, although inching through all that traffic might make it seem as though time has stood still.

The neighbor’s kid asked me the other day if I was planning to do anything special “for the eclipse,” and he proceeded to tell me that he and some of his friends were having an “eclipse party.”

“So, Mr. Peterson, what are you going to do for the eclipse?”

“Well, I guess that when it gets dark,” I deadpanned, “I’ll turn the lights on in the house.”

It’s hard to write in the dark.

Copyright (c) 2017, Dennis L. Peterson

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