Annie Dillard went to see a total eclipse of the sun in 1979 and wrote about it in “Total Eclipse,” published as part of her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk. She speaks of the terrifying nature of a total eclipse and says that “Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.” She describes the eeriness of totality and the awe it inspires. One can tell that, for her, it was a profoundly moving experience. Then, in the last paragraphs she speaks of walking away from the hill on which she and her husband had watched the eclipse.
“…when the total eclipse ended, an odd thing happened.
When the sun appeared as a blinding bead on the ring’s side, the eclipse was over. The black lens cover appeared again, back-lighted, and slid away. At once the yellow light made the sky blue again; the black lid dissolved and vanished. The real world began there. I remember now: We all hurried away. We were born and bored at a stroke. We rushed down the hill. We found our car; we saw the other people streaming down the hillsides; we joined the highway traffic and drove away.
We never looked back. It was a general vamoose, and an odd one, for when we left the hill, the sun was still partially eclipsed—a sight rare enough, and one which, in itself, we would probably have driven five hours to see. But enough is enough. One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief. From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home.”
The last two sentences of the article speak of more than just her experience of the eclipse. Dillard is one who sees the world in all its glory and has described it well for others in the books she has written. She knows of mystery, splendor, and glory. She also knows that we humans do not live in experiences of rapture forever. We spend most of our time in the mundane world of home. “One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief. From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home.”
I am one who is fortunate to work at a job in which I am paid to live in the world of glory, mystery and splendor. I get to interpret God, the mysteries of the universe, and creation to a world that is weighed down by expense records and balance sheets. Dillard says, “It can never be satisfied, the mind, never…. the mind wants to know all the world, and all eternity, and God. The mind’s sidekick, however, will settle for two eggs over easy.” Most of us live in the day-to-day of eggs and jobs and marriages and kids. We only briefly think about eclipses, theology, creation, and the mysteries of the universe. We are too busy working for that next meal of “two eggs over easy.” Most of the time, we are more comfortable in the world of eggs and expense records. Then, occasionally, the sun is blotted out from the sky and we consider our place in the world. Like ancients who believed that a wolf had bitten a chunk out of the sun, we wonder at the complexities of our world and are reminded of things we had not thought about for some time. We are faced with the size of the moon relative to our earth and to our sun. We are reminded that our universe is full of stars and moons and planets and things beyond this earth. Suddenly the “two eggs over easy” seem insignificant considering the bigger questions of how we got here and where we are headed. But it only lasts a moment. The total eclipse is over and “From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home.”