Editorial — Eclipse provided a shared sense of joy and awe

Glenn Rutherford

When a miracle of celestial mechanics unfolded on April 8, when the moon passed between the sun and our planetary home and a narrow band of darkness snaked across the surface of the Earth, another miracle of a sort unfolded, too.

As the eclipse magically traced its lightless path across the United States, thousands — hundreds of thousands — of people came together to watch. They gathered in towns big and tiny in Kentucky and Southern Indiana, places such as Paoli and Scottsburg, Paducah and Indianapolis. 

Small towns along the path grew overnight, suddenly becoming tourist destinations for visitors who gathered and watched the moon’s sojourn across the sun.

The moon’s shadow, traveling across the globe at a speed of just under 2,000 miles an hour, brought people together in ways that ball games, concerts or amusement parks never do.

People shared a remarkable few moments in the shadow — totality, the astronomers call it — with friends and strangers, with the elderly and with children.

And no one cared, at least for that one day, what political persuasion their fellow eclipse watcher might be. No one, for a brief pause, gave a hoot about religious differences, racial differences — differences in general. They suddenly didn’t matter.

We all were, in an astronomical instant, suddenly one. Nobody asked if you were a twice-a-week church goer or just a once in a while worshipper. Nobody wanted to know if you were a Cards fan or if you cheered for the ‘Cats. Liberal or conservative? Who cares?

The eclipse made us all fans of the sky, followers of astronomy, students of creation, at least for a little while.

And that is miraculous, any way you look at it.

It was, for all of us, awe-inspiring.

Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory and the scientist known as Pope Francis’ official astronomer, said the event served as a teaching moment in the midst of the helter-skelter of everyday life.

“The eclipse reminds us of the immense beauty in the universe that occurs outside of our own petty set of concerns,” he said to a reporter from the National Catholic Register.

“When everyone has forgotten the generals and the politicians and the pop stars,” he said, “the universe remains. It pulls us out of ourselves and makes us remember that we are part of a big and glorious and beautiful universe.”

In that instant, in other words, the eclipse put us in our rightful place.

It also produces what might best be described as a common sense of joy. And wonder, too.

The event showed us that “we are all under the same sky; all experiencing the same thing,” the astronomer added. “That sense of common joy is something that can both pull us together and also encourage us to want to learn more.”

It was, he said, “a great common experience that nobody pays for and nobody can own.”

Our own Christopher Graney, an astronomer who writes The Record’s Science in the Bluegrass column, is a parishioner at St. Louis Bertrand Church and an astronomer and historian of science with the Vatican Observatory. He noted that the eclipse might make us a bit wiser, too.

“If you believe God created the universe,” Graney said, “then the study of the universe is the study of God’s work and it will teach you something about God. Just as if you study a painting by Leonardo da Vinci, you will learn something about da Vinci.”

So if you learn nothing else from the April 8 event, it might be this: When you pause for a moment to look at God’s creation, you’ll realize that it’s glorious.

GLENN O. RUTHERFORD
Record Editor Emeritus

Glenn Rutherford
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Glenn Rutherford
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