KtB Wants You…To Write About the Eclipse

The total solar eclipse passing over the continental U.S. this August 21st is the first to do so in 99 years, but American eclipse stories go back much farther than that. It was a “Dark Day” in the spring of 1780 that apparently convinced Shaker leader Mother Ann Lee to “open” her revelation to new seekers. The midday blackness and the red moon that followed were, according to Chris Jennings’s Paradise Now, “a reprise of the midday eclipse that supposedly occurred while Christ hung suffering on Calvary,” according to the Synoptic Gospels. (As it turned out, the mysterious darkness was likely caused by enormous wildfires in Ontario, though no one knew that at the time.)

Of course, unusual movements of sun and moon are also cause to ponder more scientific wonders. In Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, in which he tries to prove the Bible false and nature the only repository of God’s magnificence, he uses the occurrence of eclipses as an example of the difference between divine nature and human knowledge of it. “Every person who looks at an almanack sees an account when an eclipse will take place, and he sees also that it never fails to take place according to the account there given. This shows that man is acquainted with the laws by which the heavenly bodies move. But it would be something worse than ignorance, were any church on earth to say that those laws are an human invention.” You might look at an eclipse as an apocalyptic omen or a reassuring glimpse of rationality, but whatever you do, don’t look at it directly: you can hurt your eyes that way.

I have to admit that what is fascinating me right now about the eclipse is its geography. I’m projecting politics up into the sky. I’ve been spending time learning about and working against the political gerrymandering that North Carolina has recently become nationally notorious for. Since I moved to North Carolina two years ago, I’ve become very conscious of myself as an “outsider”, and the lines drawn around my blue-dot region of the state, not to mention the political gerrymandering that North Carolina has recently become nationally notorious for. The Raleigh suburb Cary is said to stand for “Containment Area for Relocated Yankees.” The infamous segregationist senator Jesse Helms, weighing in on a debate about where the North Carolina State Zoo should be located, said something to the effect of “Why do we need to build a zoo? We should just put a fence up around Chapel Hill.”

Segregating, redlining, the Big Sort–the eclipse, on the other hand, is no respecter of lines geographical, social, or political. Its west-to-east swipe across the entire continental United States makes its own path, one given the ominous-sounding name the Path of Totality. But there is something cheering about this sudden darkness. We’re not like the early Shakers; we can have confidence that the sun is coming back. But in the meantime, we can look up, wearing our eclipse glasses of course, and marvel at the power of something much bigger than the lines we draw.

But that’s me. Killing the Buddha wants to hear from you. We’re gathering a lineup of Buddha-killers along the Path of Totality, or thereabouts. So get your glasses, make your road trip plans, and send your eclipse stories–or photos, videos, haiku, cartoons, etc–to brook at killingthe Buddha dot com by August 25. And thanks!Courtesy Mark Margolis / Rainbow Symphony

Brook Wilensky-Lanford is the author of Paradise Lust: Searching for the Garden of Eden (Grove Press, 2011). An editor of Killing the Buddha, she lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Follow Brook on Twitter: @modmyth