Yesterday is already a dream and tomorrow is only a vision, but today well-lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope. – Sanskrit Proverb
Totality. All I wanted last summer was to experience totality.
Months have gone by since the Great American Solar Eclipse. It’s been a far journey…a bridge over a truly languid stretch of summer, fall, winter. I hope, buffeted now by warm May breezes, I’ve come out on the other side of spring.
Extensive March-April snowfalls amid days of longer afternoon sunshine created a contrasting landscape from last summer’s beaches and eclipses. But I discovered that snowwalking and beachwalking have something in common. The sun can feel as blazing over spring snow as over sandy shores. Unfiltered winter sun turning into spring is extra intense… like the day of the Great American Solar Eclipse.
It sounds like a movie title: The Day of the Great American Solar Eclipse.
On Oscar night in February – with the TV being commandeered by family – I shuffled through various online updates. I was thinking about my intention last summer to write about the solar eclipse, about women and movies. It was, after all, the summer of Wonder Woman. It was also the summer of the eclipse.
Last year seems like a faraway dream, particularly August 2017 and all the hype about eclipses. I remember everyone ranting that it was a chaotic month. Punctuated by that Great American Eclipse, last August brought not only celestial drama, it also brought for me the realization of impending life changes. Mostly I remember feeling lost in a wild and crazy vortex, as the weeks flew into autumn. Here we were, in the midst of my father-in-law’s rapid health decline, not knowing what those weeks would mean in the grand scheme of things.
Totality. All I wanted last summer was to experience totality. I really wanted to be in Eclipseville on August 21 for the zero-point experience of the 2017 Great American Solar Eclipse. Surely we could somehow manage to escape to Ky – a mere eight-hour drive under perfect conditions. We could just cruise on down, view this astronomical event – in totality – and drive home. I wrote it on the calendar weeks ahead – as if seeing it there would make it so. It wasn’t to be.
However, I’ll remember the days surrounding last summer’s solar eclipse for a couple of reasons, both of them movies and both of the movies about powerful women. I don’t get to the movies as often as I’d like, but in August – while our snowbird kids were home from wintering on their boat in Mexico – I felt like my life was in the middle of its own solar eclipse. It wasn’t just because of family events; it was also me. It was about me and what I’m to be.
So, I was excited that somehow, in August, I managed to see two woman-powered films: Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde. It was the summer of the woman at the movies. It was the summer for screen heroines: like Gal Gadot and Charlize Theron.
As women, we seem to be in a perpetual cultural vortex. I’m probably not the only one spending time thinking about my place in humanity: as a woman, as a wife, a mother, a mother-in-law, no longer a daughter…and by last September, no longer a daughter-in-law.
On the day of the eclipse, we were not in Kentucky. We were in the Parcheta home town, Grand Haven, Michigan – taking my father-in-law to a hospital appointment for hydration treatment. The eclipse happened to be right at that time, so we ventured on down to the Lake Michigan beach to see how the community was observing the phenomenon. Never mind that it wasn’t zero-point up here, the day still held a surreal aspect. Time seemed to stand still right there on the lakeshore, even as that big event in the sky unfolded; and it felt good to share the experience with hometown locals.
Looking back in mid-winter, I continued to reflect on those movies I saw last August. Why didn’t Wonder Woman get more Oscar attention after taking 75 years – my whole lifetime – to get to the big screen? Why did I get such a kick, at my age, out of bad ass Charlize Theron’s role as an international spy?
The Wonder Woman film seemed so right for this time. I was especially struck by an interview in Rolling Stone magazine with director Patty Jenkins on the need for a new kind of hero. We’re facing a time, Jenkins told Gina McIntyre, where each country has such legitimate complaints against each other and this has all been going on for so long that if we’re going to come to a world of peace in the future, we have to lay down the past and become responsible heroes ourselves. Often what that requires is love and peace instead of battle. That is a hugely important message to the world right now from my perspective.
Love and peace, of course, are often battling within ourselves. To be a responsible hero, then, requires us to come to that inner harmony. But how to get there in these turbulent political times? Even now, this spring, the task to find our place of love an peace seems a huge mountain to climb.
As for Atomic Blonde, the Charlize Theron effect for me was the fun of seeing a high profile female James Bond-style secret agent in an action thriller. That, and the platinum hair – so blonde, it was white. Well, now I realize I was focusing on her hair because I’d sensed a big change coming for me. My hairdresser, Bonnie, last summer began nudging me to go natural. Natural, she hinted, would be quite white…not salt and pepper like my mom’s. Hmmm. Was she sure about that? When I began coloring my hair 20 years ago for our daughter’s wedding, my hairdresser Rita kept the flecks of gray at bay. Rita retired before thoughts of any big transition. Now I was up against it – decision time. So, last summer I had hair on my mind.
Going natural? Me, be authentic? Imagine that. Did I have the courage? That’s what I was wondering last August. So there I was, watching Atomic Blonde, pondering white. Well, maybe I should have a little fun with this transition phase to face my truly white hair. Maybe, I should try out atomic blonde, myself. A dramatic change might be just what I need to inspire me.
Then along came another movie female protagonist – Cruella DeVille. I got a glimpse of a different me last September when my daughter-in-law requested a Disney-themed costume party to celebrate her 30th birthday. My daughter suggested I go as Cruella DeVille. Amazingly, everyone loved the white/black wig I wore; and it was fun to try out the Cruella personality for an evening. That youthful celebration provided a moment of respite for our family – from the sadness at the passing of my husband’s dad earlier that month, and memorial planning.
Meanwhile, the country last fall seemed to teeter into more continuous chaos. Sometimes I think I’m dreaming, when I try to absorb where we’ve been with it. In the long weeks since the Great American Eclipse, I’ve begun to think I should pay more attention to the possibility of an eclipse effect. It feels like something is being unleashed at this point in time. Never mind my hair, there’s some kind of ‘Great American Transition’ going on…things hidden coming to light, perhaps. So many stories coming at us at breakneck pace.
By November, after my father-in-law’s October memorial service, my husband and I decided we needed to get away. We headed south, finally traveling that route to Kentucky, through the Eclipseville area, on down through Tennessee and on to Alabama to visit some of their beautiful state parks. It was good to draw back from the all-consuming news and politics; it was good to explore places we haven’t been. Nature immersion always helps refresh the spirit.
Between eclipses: Totality or transformation. There were two eclipses last August. Between the August 7 lunar eclipse and the August 22 Great American Solar Eclipse were the two movies about powerful women. I noted the synchronicity of seeing those two films – one as it was arriving in theaters, the other as just disappearing. Perhaps that was the eclipse effect for me. Looking back, I saw a continuity, a ripple effect from that vortex last summer. In the ripples, I still see that vision of hope, my 2017 focus word I’d mentioned at the beginning of last year, inspired by the Star Wars film, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
This spring the chaos continues across the political landscape. I can’t count the times someone will reference it as being in a crazy movie. We wake up daily to the kind of stuff we never had to think about before. Each day the stuff becomes more bizarre. Addicted now, we tune in for the next insane episode.
I didn’t realize how much the political climate had been affecting my emotions until the March 24 student march on Washington DC. I’d suspected the constant barrage and spiraling news stories might be influencing my blood pressure, sensitive that I am. But, when the tsunami of young people washed over DC and I heard the power in their youthful voices (including the granddaughter of Martin Luther King) – their grit, determination and grace – I couldn’t help being overcome. I felt overcome with anguish for what we’ve been witnessing, but yet hope for the future. The pent up anxiety I’d felt let loose in the moment.
Might we hope we’re in a mere Wrinkle in Time? Beloved author Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time came to the big screen in March. The movie provided another grand escape for an afternoon, with another female protagonist, and another female director, Ava Duvernay. The long-awaited film was spectacular, but also came with mixed reviews. I guess you could say, kind of like our nation’s politics these days.
Movies are like dreams. They entertain. They can help take our minds off our problems, our personal situation. They can also inspire us. They can help us gain perspective, formulate our own thoughts and beliefs, and maybe even motivate us to action. Like dreams, their lingering effect can show up at any moment. Our political movie isn’t over yet. The plot thickens daily. I’m sure scriptwriters everywhere are scrambling, knowing it’ll be a blockbuster someday.
Meanwhile, I sense we’re being shaken out of our complacency. In this great American transition, the key is to have faith to keep moving forward…to search inside for that peace and love. May is my birthday month. Birthday months are always a good time to reassess. For me, it’s a good time to fight off that mischievous Cruella DeVille part of me and add compassion to my list of focus words. It’s a good time to renew the effort to be more compassionate with others – especially when we disagree – and also with myself, even to embrace my atomic hair.
In the light of faith I hope. Do not allow me to faint by the way. This light, without which I should still walk in darkness, teaches me the road. – Catherine of Siena
Totality or transformation… the eclipse effect…totally transformation. The far journey to the other side continues. Totality or transformation. In this wrinkle in time, may we dive into the transformation – each of us doing a bit of time folding ourselves – as our heart would speak to us.