Tuesday, August 22, 2017

eclipsing my memory

"It is an experience you will remember for your lifetime."

That is the hype the media were selling for the past month.

And we all know the object of that hyperventilation -- the total solar eclipse that slipped across the United States yesterday. It was almost as if someone had received an advance notice that Revelation 19 was being fulfilled on 21 August.

The hype worked. Looking at this morning's stories in The Oregonian, you would think that the Messiah and his white horse had actually shown up. When it was nothing more than the moon passing in front of the sun and casting its shadow on a small portion of Earth.

Don't get me wrong. If I had stayed in Oregon for the past two weeks, I would have been standing in the street like a slack-jawed yokel wondering if someone knew how to light the pilot light on the sun.

I suspect the reporters, who were dong their best to ensure we would all have the correct attitude of our solar experience, thought they were correct. For a lot of people, this would be the memory of a lifetime. (Even though the press did seriously mislead us into dashed expectations with Halley's Comet in 1986.)

But the reporters were dead wrong -- about me. Total solar eclipses are apparently very easy to forget. I did.

When I was in Oregon earlier in the month, the newspapers carried several stories about the last eclipse Oregon experienced on 26 February 1979. I thought that was odd. I had returned to Oregon by then -- and was in law school. If there had been a solar eclipse, I should have known about it.

So, I rummaged through my memory closet. And there it was. In the Things Long Forgotten pile.

My first class on that Monday morning was early.  I do not recall the subject, but it was taught by Professor Ross Runkel. It was the last semester of the third year -- when students are too busy looking for jobs to bother attending class. But I was there.

We knew an eclipse was on the way. But it was overcast. After all, it was a February morning in Oregon. I am surprised it was not raining.

Our only indication that there was an eclipse was the dimming light outside. Professor Runkel told us we could sit closer to the windows to watch the diminishing light if we liked, but he would continue his lecture.

The light dimmed. Birds stopped singing. The light came back. That was all there was to it. And it is probably why, until this month, I had completely forgotten about it.

What I do remember is that the newspapers and television in 1979 were not obsessed with the event. No one thought of calling out the national guard. Or worrying about eclipse-watching glasses (though there were stories about creating a viewer with a rather funky shoe-boxes-with-a-hole). Or fears of traffic Armageddon.

And what about here in Mexico yesterday? I decided to take my long walk in the middle of the day to see if we would experience anything from the eclipse. The maps indicated only 25% of the sun would be affected at our latitude.  I knew when it was supposed to happen.

It passed unnoticed, What I did see could have been the flag of Kyrgyzstan -- yellow sun on a blue sky field. Well, there was no mystical eagle carrying the sun or any fancy brocade. But the sky was clear and the sun undiminished. Even 1979 was a better experience. But probably no more memorable.

I was going to ask: Why did such a large section of the American (and apparently Canadian) population lose their sense of proportion over an eclipse? But, it does not matter that they did. If some people were enthralled by this natural phenomenon, good for them. We all need something to bring meaning into our lives.

As for me, it will be one more event to stuff into that ever-growing forgotten pile of memories. So forgotten that I have even forgotten where the pile is. Or if there is one.  

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