A Moment of Unity, on Earth as in Space

Maybe it takes an extraterrestrial event to bring this shredded country together. For a phenomenon that traversed the country from the contentious southern border to the far reaches of New England, Monday’s eclipse attracted remarkably few conspiracy theories or accusations. From where I stood, in Buffalo, the major threat to the moment was a forecast of heavy clouds.

Bring on the ominous metaphors: We don’t have the foggiest idea where we’re going. This year, the eclipse passes America by. Here comes the rain again.

Perhaps I was too primed to seek meaning, having found unexpected significance in the last major eclipse to cross the country, back on Aug. 21, 2017. I needed it.

Wearied by the chaotic churn of Donald Trump’s presidency and desperate for a vacation, I told my family I wanted to see something in this country Trump couldn’t bash, alter, destroy or tarnish. I wanted mountains, rock structures, landscapes and vistas that would give me that sense of This Too Shall Pass, and the planet will still be around. We decided to spend 10 days in South Dakota, starting at Mount Rushmore and ending in the Badlands.

I didn’t realize that amid all that permanence, the most fleeting vision would be the most profound. This wasn’t in South Dakota at all; it was a half-day’s drive away in Wyoming.

We set out in the early morning on what became clear was a pilgrimage route to the zone of totality. Highways that had been as empty as the prairie during the preceding days were teeming with cars; gas stations had turned into community pit stops selling all manner of eclipse-branded gear and keepsakes. Eclipse Beef Jerky in Lights Out Original flavor, anyone? People had parked at random intervals along the highway, tailgating at a galactic game.

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