The 2017 Solar Eclipse in the United States was replete with signs for me, beginning with my seeming compulsion to drive south to Carbondale Illinois one of several US cities in the so-called “path of totality.” Chicago was not even near the path so eye protection would be needed here for the entire partial eclipse. There was my inability to get eclipse glasses. They were given away free at Chicago’s Public Libraries, but by the time I tried to get them they were out of them. Then there was the drive down to Carbondale in the Southern Illinois region informally known as “Little Egypt.” In fact, the city at Illinois’s southern tip, at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers is named Cairo, after Egypt’s capital. I left Chicago early enough at 6am for what would normally be a 5-hour drive. I was one of thousands of enthusiasts from all over the nation who headed to one of the 14 states in the path of this rare celestial event and as I got closer to Carbondale my trip time began to increase to 7 hours.
I was almost to Carbondale, when the eclipse began at 11:52 and I could tell it was time because locals along the Highway 13 exit off I-57 were relaxed in their lounge chairs or near tailgates on the grassy embankment of Menard’s parking lot were looking up at the sun in their glasses, and with cameras and telescopes trained on the sky. Still there were no glasses to be found anywhere along the route. I guess it was a sign that I was only going to be able to see the total eclipse with my naked eye.
And that’s what I did. I arrived at Marion Illinois after 1pm. Marion at Latitude: 37° 43′ 50″ N and Longitude: 88° 56′ 00″ W was also in the path of totality, so it was just my destiny to see the eclipse there. As it approached 1:20 I parked and waited. The moon moved from right to left in front of the sun and at 1:20:40 the sun was completely blotted out. I looked up and all I could say was Allahu Akbar, G-d is Greater. For 2 minutes and 27 seconds there was darkness. Your rational faculties are aware that it is the height of daytime and just seconds before it was glaringly bright but now its twilight at all 360 degrees of the horizon. And the sun is just a thin rim around the black moon. Now I knew why I had to see it and why people from all over had come to see it. And why there are people that follow these eclipses all over the world. It’s awe inspiring to see something that you may only see once in a lifetime. All my disappointment of not having glasses to view the partial eclipse was gone. This 2 minutes, 27 seconds was worth it.
I took a brief tour of Carbondale and the University of Southern Illinois campus and the headed back home. Estimates of the number of visitors ranged from 90,000 to 150,000, to a city with only a 26,179 population, and the trip back to Chicago, made me aware of what it takes to move that many people from one area to another. That 5-hour trip was 12 hours getting back. Imagine bumper to bumper traffic for 300 miles. I guess this is what it’s like when there’s a mass evacuation of coastal cities for hurricanes and other disasters. There was some benefit however, in discovering that highways 37 north and 45 north, will get you to Chicago from southern Illinois through its small towns.
Still there was no disappointment. Those two master time pieces, the sun and the moon are such important figures in my life. The sun controlling my daily prayers and the moon determining the time of my two most important holidays of the year-Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha, which is projected to occur next week, Thursday, August 31. I am a student of the concept of time so to have these two bodies, in the same house at the same time-priceless.
It is written in the Bible that the sky became dark in the daytime during the crucifixion of Jesus. Ancient and medieval Christian writers treated this as a miracle, and while this event has been described as a solar eclipse, similar events in ancient times were associated with the deaths of notable figures. While I reject the concept of an actual physical crucifixion of a divine figure or a physical prophet, I must accept the signs that we are constantly given to bring us to an awareness of truth and reality. There is a truth that the knowledge of the world that we value so highly and come to depend on can sometimes be eclipsed by revelation. There is also a truth that a people or community can be crucified and that a brief moment of correct interpretation of G-d’s word can resurrect them. Thus, despite the magnificence of this awe-inspiring event I was blessed to witness, the even greater magnificence, the even greater miracle, is the reality that the sign represents.