In the Path of Totality
I totaled my car before a total solar eclipse.
Hours before the Moon’s umbral shadow descended upon our town, I found myself in the direct path of a midnight blue SUV.
It was the sort of moment where your life flashes before your eyes, but in that second, only two thoughts came to mind:
- Making a left turn across a multi-lane highway was a terrible idea.
- This is going to be a really bad day.
Instinctively, I swerved away from the glaring headlights. And the world went silent.
August 21, 2017 was destined for greatness — or at least, to be perpetually linked with the “Great American Eclipse” — and thus it was a day that I expected to remember for its astronomical significance.
Perhaps I’d look back on the fleeting moment of totality; the earth engulfed in darkness and the ethereal white glow of the solar corona.
Instead, I look back on the moment of impact; the shattered driver side window and the shards of glass glinting in the sunlight. A bystander trying to open the door, so mangled that it wouldn’t budge.
I remember climbing out the passenger side and talking to the other driver, who had walked over to see if I was all right. Miraculously, neither of us suffered serious injuries.
After assessing the situation, the police sent us home; no tickets were issued. With a notoriously problematic intersection and an A-pillar blind spot, it was simply a matter of time before disaster struck.
Timing is key to experiencing an eclipse. A number of celestial elements first have to coalesce for a total solar eclipse to occur:
- The Moon and the Sun must have a similar angular diameter (meaning they appear to be about the same size when viewed from Earth).
- The Moon has to be at exactly the right distance between Earth and the Sun.
- The Moon must be located within 0.5 degrees of the ecliptic plane, corresponding to Earth’s orbit around the Sun.
Moreover, in order to personally view a total solar eclipse, you must be at the right place (within the path of totality) at the right time.
Historically, solar eclipses elicited responses of fear and dread until wider understanding of the phenomenon prevailed.
In 2017, millions readied their eclipse glasses and viewers, eagerly anticipating the moment that the moon obscured the sun.
They embraced the daytime darkness, knowing that it would be short-lived.
Today is August 21, 2021. When I think back to four summers ago, I no longer dwell on what I could have done differently or what could have happened if I hadn’t turned aside in time. I just know that I have to keep moving forward.
And mostly, I feel grateful.
Grateful for a second chance.
Grateful for the reminder that one’s existence can change in an instant.
I learned to err on the side of caution, even if it means taking the long way around. I endeavored to advocate for myself in more situations. Life is too precious to waste on self-doubt or toxicity from others.
Yes, there are going to be unexpected moments where all seems hopeless — where you find yourself overtaken by a daytime darkness that saps your energy and your focus.
Just remember: eclipses don’t last forever.
If you feel trapped in the phase of totality, evaluate your path.
After all, from space, the darkest part of the moon’s shadow is but a small smudge upon Earth’s canvas.
So whether it involves changing your circumstances or your mindset, find that place where you can experience any moment of totality with awe and wonder.
What is your eclipse experience?