As I write you this, I’m barreling down the highway toward the middle of America singing "Galileo" by the Indigo Girls with two other women, and it feels so good; we laugh as we sing. “In this lifetime, I'm still not right,” we yell in unison and are shushed, because one friend is calling every Wawa along our route in search of eclipse glasses, but no one has them stocked or even knows what they are. If you haven't guessed by now, we’re on our way to see the total solar eclipse.
The path of totality, or the 70-mile wide swath from Oregon to South Carolina, where the solar eclipse will be fully visible, makes a diagonal across the country between 9am and 3pm today, August 21. The length of totality will be, at its longest, under 3 minutes. For months, scientists, astronomers, and enthusiasts, what we call skywatchers, have been preparing, by buying out hotels and campsites within the path. Some plan to make an observatory of football stadiums and fairgrounds. In Tennessee, on queer sanctuary land, the three of us will welcome this historic event and whatever comes with it. It is said that the world goes still, temperatures drop, animals quiet their cries, flowers open and close like an iris adjusting. At least that's what Mabel Loomis Todd wrote after witnessing a total solar eclipse in 1918.
During a total solar eclipse, night will fall in the middle of the day as the moon's shadow creeps across the landscape and it slowly slides between us and the sun, obscuring our greatest source of light. The darkness will not come as a surprise, neither will it feel safe, familiar. This total eclipse will not be an eclipse of the heart. Rather, it will challenge us in our spirit, in our conviction.
The sun and the new moon will be in Leo, so this eclipse is an eclipse that wants to know what pride is in the context of loss, of accounting for your shadow side, of shame on a large, even international level. Yes, this eclipse, chilling in its effect and magnificent in its own right, is loaded with political implication. Positioned beside the star of Regulus, the brightest star in Leo’s constellation, the eclipse’s planetary chart is said to be the birth and death of kings—and of rulers who are not meant to rule or have ruled without grace. Hopefully, Regulus can predict the fall of one king, and then his whole cabinet.
Reading these words, you might wonder of the eclipse’s personal implications for you. I would be remiss if I didn't relay to you what many of us already know—that the personal is always political. Slavery’s bones sank deep into our landscape and cast a long shadow over this country, one that stretches through even today—especially today. When a shadow like that is given space to grow and widen, it strips our citizens of freedom—of hope. And, who can love in a time like that? Who can live long enough to fulfill the promise of their talents? Who can walk through the street with their heart open to the stars when the night is full of fascist terrors?
You will be tempted to look directly at the total eclipse, the black hole at the center of the sun, a beckoning. But, what will appear harmless—a darkness like any other—will be more dangerous to you than you can know. You could go blind, burn your retina. And, this, too, is a metaphor for the American dark and whatever dreams we think we deserve to pursue in the light of empire. If you profit from the oppression of others, if you thrive in capitalism as many of us do, then you are implicated, and I am, too. To look at the American dark, to stand up to it, is to test our courage and our hubris both. It’s also a reminder that, no matter where you are, you should only observe the total solar eclipse with special eclipse glasses, or a camera obscura, or a viewfinder you made from a cereal box because you're a Virgo who is both handy and prepared. Protect yourself. And don't forget to punch a Klan man whenever you can.