Eclipse fever cast its own eclipse over the United States this month. It was cloudy and rainy locally, so the untimely darkness was our only indication of the phenomenon. Listening to the recordings of people as they experienced the veiling of the sun was enough to bring tears to my eyes. Their cries of astonishment and delight had me almost as captivated as they were on August 21.
The non-political, non-commercial (mostly), grace-filled moment offered us a brief respite from the tension that persists among us in the U.S. these days. The tension seems to take on new forms daily, assaulting us from every direction, making us wary and suspicious. It is relentless and self-energizing, searing us in its heat if we let it get too close for too long. Is it any surprise, then, that our collective sense of wonder during the eclipse felt like a healing, refreshing breeze?
It reminds me of an incident from a few months ago. Last winter a friend and I launched a discussion group called “Knock Knock.” It was an attempt to address emotion-laden political issues with greater care than seems to be the norm in the public square. We chose guidelines to help us speak and listen to one another with sensitivity and curiosity. We practiced, we fumbled, we kept at it. The participants who came timidly at first gained confidence, delighted at the chance to engage in meaningful dialogue that is safe, thoughtful, open.
Our final gathering before the summer hiatus had us listening to a local politician, offering him the opportunity to tell his story beyond issues and votes. The habit must be hard to break, because the discussion got a little heated. I realized that I was unprepared for this problem. How to intervene within the spirit of our principles?
Suddenly someone pointed across the table and blurted, “Look! A rainbow!” The wine bar where we gather is entirely made of windows, so there it was, vivid and delicate. We watched it grow and recede, glow and fade until the colors disappeared. We oohed and aahed, laughing together at this unexpected gift.
As we returned to our seats, our smiles morphed from awe to merriment, collectively realizing how the rainbow had broken the tension in the room.
We cannot control the skies, nor each other. We are disappointed often, clouds darkening both our personal and collective horizons. But once in a while, beauty breaks in to surprise us, unite us, and heal us, if only for a moment.