“In that moment, everything that you take for granted is suddenly gone.”
To hear Frank Close talk about why he chases totality is to wonder if you’ve ever felt a moment of real passion in your life, or if you ever will. The particle physicist was featured on the podcast Every Little Thing, in an April episode called “Rapture Chasers.” Close and the author and psychologist Kate Russo spoke—raved—about the highs they felt in their years of trekking across the planet to see total eclipses. The episode occupied most of my half-hour walk to work the morning it came out.
I blushed furiously when a clip of orgasmic moans and cries played in the show’s teasing intro. When the clip repeated later on, the hair on my arms pricked up. I was won over by the promise of ephemeral transcendence, one that would present itself to the continental United States come August 21. “You lose a sense of time, of where you are in the world, and you just seem to get this clarity about what your life is about, I guess,” Russo told Flora Lichtman, the host of the podcast. “It’s one of those times when you can truly, truly be in the moment.” Wow, I thought. And promptly forgot about it.
It wasn’t until months later—this month, in fact—that the eclipse began to linger in my mind. Of course it was Annie Dillard’s wonderful 1982 essay; of course I’d need an emotional appeal to give the eclipse the attention it’s due. The most effusive accounts of totality have developed their own tropes over the years; they center around feeling overwhelmed, a sense of things gone wrong, humility, exhilaration—in short, awe.