Culture

A Break from the Total Eclipse of America’s Heart

Watching the solar eclipse atop the Empire State Building, August 21, 2017. (Reuters photo: Brendan McDermid)
For a moment, the heavenly bodies aligned, and we gave up griping for gratitude.

The solar eclipse this August was a marvel. After all, people were looking up and not at screens! There was a widespread sense of wonder at creation at a time when it’s far from a given that we are creations of a Creator. People were even talking on New York City street corners! Neighbors and co-workers and strangers who happened to have picked up protective glasses or made paper contraptions were in a sharing mood. And goodness, for once people weren’t gawking at Donald Trump and Washington company, waiting for the next person to quit or be fired or bullied into submission (his tweeting strategy to get the Senate to cooperate with his will?).

Whether it be Charlottesville or the increase in violence as not just a political statement but expression of anger, in vitriol on social media, or in open wistful talk about presidential assassination or other means of death in a New York City diner (as I overheard not for the first time in casual conversation in recent days and weeks), we are not seeing the best of ourselves around these days. As we were all frenzied about the eclipse, I walked out of St. Agnes Church by Grand Central (where there are 39 Masses throughout the week, along with multiple Confession times and afternoon Eucharistic adoration) and came across a man resting beside his own vomit.

The whole city seems as though it passes by that block, and how many of us even notice a man there in distress, never mind stop to help and get to know him and his story? In city life, especially, we pass people by all the time. But everywhere. Even with the people we could know and love the most, sometimes. And yet, we often are on top of the latest Trump tweet and are full of opinions about it and him. There’s being an informed citizen but there’s also using news as entertainment or distraction from the real power we yield in our own lives and the world around us close to home.

On eclipse day, the Liturgy of the Hours, which priests and religious and others in the Catholic Church pray throughout the day, was from Saint Augustine, and he seemed to be preaching to us right now. He asked rhetorically: “Is there any affliction now endured by mankind that was not endured by our fathers before us? What sufferings of ours even bear comparison with what we know of their sufferings? And yet you hear people complaining about this present day and age because things were so much better in former times. I wonder what would happen if they could be taken back to the days of their ancestors — would we not still hear them complaining? You may think past ages were good, but it is only because you are not living in them.”

That’s a little perspective whether it’s the president or Congress (that covers most) or someone else you’re frustrated with. A little reality check for our short-attention-span times. (Technology has changed us, but maybe this, too, is not as bad as it seems! You could say Adam and Eve had some long-term-memory issues when temptation appeared.)

He continued: “From the time of that first Adam to the time of his descendants today, man’s lot has been labor and sweat, thorns and thistles. Have we forgotten the flood and the calamitous times of famine and war whose history has been recorded precisely in order to keep us from complaining to God on account of our own times? Just think what those past ages were like! Is there one of us who does not shudder to hear or read of them? Far from justifying complaints about our own time, they teach us how much we have to be thankful for.”

I noticed people on social media doing just that on eclipse day. Even thankful for the media for making such a big deal of it, so it was nearly impossible not to pay attention to the time and find a way to view it. Thankful, too, for the time spent with family or friends or people who came to the rescue for the non-preparers. We don’t have an eclipse every day, but it could inspire a change of approach to daily life with all its seeming bad news. There’s good, too. Being atwitter with gratitude daily would certainly be a different approach during times when Sad! seems to suck up the oxygen for much else.

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