During the eclipse Monday I couldn’t help thinking how little the human species has progressed over the past few thousand years when nature throws a curveball our way. We humans still love to freak out over anything out of the ordinary.
Naturally we were inundated with warnings about not staring into the blazing hot sun, and children were cordoned off inside school buildings and warned not to even look out the window. Some local schools did initially prepare for students to go outside with their eyes properly protected in order to observe this “once-in-a-lifetime” event, but administrators chickened out at the last minute to avoid the “liability” of some kids potentially taking off their eclipse glasses, staring into the sun and going blind.
I get it. We live in an age when we’re supposed to be constantly prepared for anything that might happen and blame is viciously applied when preparations aren’t made. I grew up before bicycle helmets and seat belts, when Evel Knievel was every young boy’s hero, and inflicting permanent damage upon yourself was just part of life. Back then we stared at the sun for hours just because we could — and we liked it! We also walked to and from school uphill both ways. So it’s hard to watch this kind of namby-pamby reaction to the moon flying between the Earth and the sun.
Frankly, I thought the eclipse would have been a perfect opportunity to set up some speakers, bring the students outside and have a science teacher explain exactly what was happening. But maybe the temptation to stare directly into the sun with the naked eye would have just been too much for some students. Although, as I drove by the Alabama School of Math and Science Monday it looked like they were using it as a teaching moment. I guess those kids are smart enough to keep their eclipse glasses on. But if they change the name of the school to Alabama School of Math and Science for the Blind, we’ll know things went terribly wrong.
The stories of people burning their eyes out looking at the sun appear to be somewhat apocryphal. Searching the almighty internet, I found just one article about some guy in the ‘60s who looked at an eclipse with his naked eye and still sees a sunspot. Seems like there would have been more reports of eclipse-related blindness if it were a pertinent issue.
The freaking out about eclipse blindness hit some pretty interesting high points. There were warnings that looking at a photo of the sun taken with your cellphone could damage your eyes. (WHAT?!!!) And lots of warnings about ruining cellphone cameras by taking a picture of the sun. But my favorite eclipse warnings were about getting the pets indoors so THEY wouldn’t stare at the sun.
Now my dog, Georgia, has as much interest in astronomy as any mutt I know, but I’ve never caught her staring at the sun. Still, just to be on the safe side I locked up her telescope and made her wear a welding mask all day. Just kidding! She doesn’t have thumbs, there’s no way she could twist the knobs to focus a telescope! But the welding mask part is true.
I’m not trying to downplay all eclipse-related dangers, though. Some were very real. For instance, I nearly fell down a very long flight of stairs while wearing my eclipse glasses and looking up at the sun. I was so mesmerized by the eclipse that I forgot it wasn’t a great idea to try to walk down the stairs while staring at it.
People were also driving a little crazy as they kept trying to look at the eclipse at red lights or even while still cruising along at 50 mph. I bet MPD dealt with more than a couple of eclipse-related wrecks.
Some of the memes created to honor the eclipse may have been my favorite part of the day. The widely circulated pic of the two packs of Eclipse gum stuck to a pair of glasses was clever. The video of the sun with male genitalia moving in to create an “eclipse” was also a winner among the more childish people I know. (I refused to laugh at it.)
Those people I know who were in the “path of totality” — meaning in areas where the sun was completely blotted out by the moon for a few minutes — all said the eclipse was an amazing sight. Here in 80 percent totality land the experience wasn’t quite as mystical. It was just a little more like 5:30 p.m. than 1:30 p.m. Mostly it just made me wish it was happy hour.
For some reason the whole event reminded me of the movie “Apocalypto,” where the Mayan chiefs are lopping off the heads of prisoners and bouncing them down from the tops of their pyramids during an eclipse. Not that I saw anyone decapitated, but just the strange behavior among modern people who theoretically have a least a reasonable understanding of the science behind an eclipse offered a sliver of insight into just how nuts people must have gotten when this kind of thing happened 500 years ago.
Plus I almost went bouncing down the stairs, which would have been life imitating art.
It was nice to have a distraction from all the things we deal with these days that really are far more “apocalyptic.” For a few minutes we could all stop worrying about nuclear threats from North Korea, people getting killed over statues, terrorist attacks and the eventual reappearance of the McRib. For just a few minutes we could all revert back to our prehistoric roots and be awed by the giant fire eye in the sky closing for a few minutes.
I’d love to say we came through this heavenly event a stronger, happier, more unified people, but that’s asking way too much from an eclipse. I’ll just settle for not having fallen down a flight of stairs wearing goofy paper glasses and my dog still being able to see.