A Bite Out of the Sun: An Eclipse Story


leslie verner -a bite out of the sun3

We were among the fools who drove hours to put ourselves in the Path of Totality for the eclipse. At the risk of ramping up the sense of FOMO for those of you who skipped it, I have to say the experience ranks among one of the most inspiring of my life.

We spread out our ratty quilt next to the river, claiming our spot in the RV site that claimed to be a “resort,” but was really just several hundred campers smashed into tiny gravel lots charging $120 a night. But since hotels in Casper, Wyoming, were $399 a night and my parents had the foresight to reserve a spot nine months ago, we pitched a tent, like that with Essential Accessories for Outfitter Tents, for our family of five on the rocks behind their camper.

Mostly, we waited. The kids became instant best friends with the family across the gravel path who had driven overnight from Vegas. We tried on our opaque eclipse glasses, gazing at the burning dot, then checking our phones again for the time. A man set up a mammoth telescope and let people look through it, for the small price of having to hear him marvel about the wonders of a divine creator, to the great irritation of my parents’ atheist friends.

We settled on the blanket to the whining of our three-year-old, demanding that she have her hot pink camping chair. My husband darted back to the site to get the chair, with just two minutes to totality. The temperature was dropping, the sky darkening to twilight. Terrified my children would stare at the sun and go blind, I yelled at my daughter to put on her glasses, panicking that I myself had looked at the sun, now just a sliver of light, without my glasses. I was glad our baby was fast asleep in my parents’ camper so I wouldn’t have to obsess over him not ogling at the sun.

My husband returned just in time. The girl next to me suddenly shouted, “Take off your glasses!” After so many minutes of stressing over wearing the glasses, we finally yanked them off and found ourselves frozen, trance-like in the horrific wonder of a modern-day science fiction film.

The campsite erupted with noise and motion. The adults shrieked wildly and the children spun in circles–pirouetting, twirling, cartwheeling and hugging one another in the eerie light. We were Frodo, our vision transfixed on the eye in the fires of Mordor. The moon was a smooth black orb, framed by the most brilliant shock of light I have ever seen. Touching my cheek, I realized I was crying.

The trees, grass and river glowed with the light of dusk—or perhaps dawn. A pinpoint of light pierced the darkness and the diamond glinted off the side of the burning ring. This was the end–the finale that left us speechless except we suddenly knew that we were small and nature and space could drastically dwarf our overinflated sense of self. We knew that light and dark could dance together and that we’d survive the harrowing nightmare.

Totality lasted two minutes and twenty-two seconds. In that short span, the supernatural peeled away reality to reveal life in all its wildness and God in all His glory. It was a Mount of Transfiguration moment that left us scrambling to find a house for the divine. And then it was over. The glasses went back on and we folded up the blanket, wet with dew at noon.

Sometimes life gives us a glimpse of God that is nearly impossible to deny. We get a sneak peek of the transcendent and feel to our core that all is not as it seems. An hours-old infant fresh from the womb, the last long exhale of a beloved family member, a sunset dripping with unnamable colors or the terror of lightning rioting in the clouds remind us of our place in the universe. Our soapy dishpan hands brush with the glorious divine and we are transformed.

We wedged the tent, camping chairs and Coleman stove back into the minivan to begin the three-turned-six-hour drive home. We hit the traffic wall after driving forty minutes and as the sun set, more and more cars pulled off to the side of the interstate, either running out of gas or deciding to pitch a tent on the side of I-25 rather than drive 5 mph the rest of the way home to Denver. Gas stations ran empty and the line to the bathroom was 20 minutes long. The kids tried on hats in the shape of sharks as I eavesdropped on the six foot Swedes, Amish, and tattooed motorcyclists in line.

“This traffic is crazy, but it was so worth it,” one man said to another.

There was no arguing or complaining in the waiting, just strangers suddenly fused by the trauma of wonder.

Back in the car, my son kept putting on the plastic black glasses, gazing at the setting sun. “You don’t need those anymore,” I said.

“But what if the sun has a bite out of it and I miss it?” my four-year-old protested.

Staring out the window at the vast grasslands of Wyoming, I had to agree. Having had a taste of the transcendent, I longed for heaven to lift the veil again. Just for a moment.