How the eclipse could help unite a fractured America

These days, I feel like a traveling preacher — or a rabbi, perhaps.

A recent Wednesday found me in Cleveland, sermonizing from the stage of a converted synagogue — now a concert hall — to more than 400 eager souls. Two days later, I carried the word to a packed auditorium in New York City. Via the internet, I have lately evangelized in Mesquite, Tex.; Evansville, Ind.; and Cape Elizabeth, Maine. My message: Prepare for the great and awesome day that is coming.

On April 8, the universe will grace America with nature’s grandest spectacle, a total solar eclipse. Along a roughly 115-mile-wide zone from Texas to Maine (called the path of totality), the bright sun will vanish for up to 4½ minutes, plunging the earth into alien twilight. Meanwhile, on that day, everywhere in the contiguous United States will experience a partial solar eclipse, an interesting (albeit far less awesome) event.

A total eclipse can be life-changing. I witnessed my first in 1998, in Aruba. At the instant the moon fully covered the sun and the blue sky fell away, the solar corona — the sun’s outer atmosphere — burst forth, shimmering like a tinsel wreath in outer space. Beside it, the planets sailed in their orbits. The sight was a revelation, for I understood viscerally that I am a mere speck on a piece of rock drifting around the sun. I now chase eclipses across the globe.

Total eclipses can also change the course of history. They have ended and fostered armed conflict. A 19th-century eclipse helped inspire America’s rise as a scientific power, as I discovered when writing a book on that event. And this year’s eclipse, I pray, just might nudge our fractured nation in a hopeful, unified direction.

Think you love solar eclipses? Think again. This man has seen more than 20. (Video: Alice Li/The Washington Post)

You may recall that seven years ago another total eclipse traversed our country. On that occasion — Aug. 21, 2017 — the path of totality draped like a sash from Oregon to South Carolina, and it fell across an America that seemed on the verge of civil war.

It was the first year of the presidency of Donald Trump, when protests and outrage frayed the country. Partisan and cultural divides deepened: red vs. blue, urban vs. rural. One week before the eclipse, darkness fell on Charlottesville, where a white-supremacist rally met counterprotesters in a deadly clash that epitomized the country’s unraveling. Yet on the day of the celestial event, America coalesced. Its focus turned outward — skyward — for a shared cosmic moment.

At Southern Illinois University, when the lunar shadow arrived, 14,000 voices rose as one from the school’s Saluki Stadium. “It just shows us how powerful we can be when we all come together, even with everything that’s going on,” a man in the crowd told NBC News.

In Oakland, N.J. — where townspeople gathered at the library to watch a partial eclipse but found there were not enough solar glasses for everyone to observe safely — those who had glasses shared with those who did not. “Given the experiences we’ve had around the country lately,” a woman told the local paper, “it’s good to see everyone coming together and making it work.”

At an enormous gathering called SolarFest in Oregon’s high desert, the diverse thousands who came from all over proved so polite and cooperative that they left almost no litter when they vacated the fairgrounds. “It’s immaculate,” said one of the organizers, stunned.

The scene repeated itself across the country, in parks and city streets, on mountaintops and beaches. Individuals became communities. Strangers were no longer strangers. Hardened people cried, hugged, fell reverentially silent.

In this age of polarized politics, siloed entertainment and individualized news feeds, the eclipse offered a precious shared experience — one that lifted and joined rather than debased and divided. A survey by researchers at the University of Michigan…

This article was originally published by a . Read the Original article here. .

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