Soon, so soon, we’ll look to the heavens in awe.
By the tens of millions, we’ll witness our little G-type yellow dwarf star slowly occluded by our moon. Darkness will fall, and the sun will become a ring of coronal fire. We will wonder at this through the polarized glasses we purchased online, which we hope are the real thing and not some knockoff that will leave that image burned forever into our retinas.
And we will wonder what it means, because we homo sapiens are creatures that seek purpose and meaning in all things.
Surely, surely, this is some heavenly commentary about something we are doing.
There are those among my coreligionists who see divine warnings in blood moons and storms. They read the cosmos as earnestly as a shaman seeking meaning in monkey entrails.
But that is not the eclipse’s purpose. Our sun and our moon do not stand in conjunction as some commentary on the … peculiarity … of our current administration. The bright sky of day does not dim into a preternatural dark because of some issue we’re angrily tweeting at each other about. The air does not grow cool, and the birds suddenly silent, because we human beings have or have not done something.
It does so because it does, and it is because it is.
If Gary Johnson were president, this eclipse would still occur. If The Rent Is Too Damn High guy were president, this eclipse would still occur. If the Cuban missile crisis had gone badly south, and our planet had sat for 50 years as a ruin of atomic slag, this eclipse would nonetheless darken the uncaring eyes of the cockroaches.
To paraphrase my sacred texts, the shadow of this eclipse will fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike.
That, perhaps, is one of the things we can legitimately take away from this wonder of creation. It’s not all about us. It is not about our egos and our endless grasping, or the petty reasons we find to hate and destroy. We human beings are both wonderful and infinitesimal, both amazing and also little more than the dust to which we return.
It also reminds us, perhaps, of how important and inescapable reality is. As we increasingly turn inward, consumed by virtual worlds of our own creation, this moment reminds us to pay attention to things greater than our territorial primate squabblings and shriekings. The same sun we marvel at could just as easily burp out a coronal mass ejection of charged particles that would end our technological civilization. The same heavens that will be darkened could serve up a mid-sized asteroid that could do much the same. The complex, interwoven ecosystem upon which we rely for life could come apart, broken by our selfish consumption.
Life on our little jewel of a world is small and fragile, precious and beautiful.
As we together in awesome wonder look to the universe displayed, that seems a message worth taking away.
The Rev. Dr. David Williams is the author of “The Believer’s Guide to the Multiverse” and the new novel “When the English Fall.” He lives in Annandale, Va.