Hilary and I drove four hours to stand on a gravel road north of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, for two minutes of magic on Monday. A couple dozen other cars were parked on the same quarter-mile of road, full of people doing the same thing: standing and looking up at the sun, waiting for the moon to move completely in front of it for about 99 seconds.
The daylight dimmed around us and the temperature dropped. In the seconds just before totality, shadow bands rippled across the dirt road at our feet. We pulled off our cardboard glasses and stared at it: a black circle with a glowing ring around it. A sort of 360-degree sunset painted the horizon pink all the way around us. From the far end of the road, where most of the cars had parked, cheers erupted.
People were cheering for the solar system. We usually cheer for sports teams, speeches, live performances, but rarely do the sun and the moon get applause. It was a ridiculous and wonderful moment to share with a bunch of strangers, and then it was over. The sun came back out and people jumped in their cars and drove away, to wherever home was.
As Hilary drove, I scrolled through social media, seeing what everyone saw: great photos of the eclipse taken by skilled photographers, photos of families in cardboard sunglasses, friends who had all made pilgrimages to watch the sun and moon do their thing. It was a phenomenon.
And then I discovered on Facebook that even the solar eclipse has haters. People wrote their own takes on it: “Underwhelmed.” “That was it?” “Lame.” “I should have lowered my expectations.” It was like people were going on Yelp to rate a new restaurant in their neighborhood, or reviewing a film that just came out, as if something could be done to meet their personal needs better next time. Universe: Two stars out of five.
Who are we complaining to here? The manager of the solar system? The PR company responsible for all the hype about the eclipse? The company who sold us this rare astronomical event? What would we like for our trouble, a refund?
Not giving a shit is helpful in a lot of circumstances: not caring about non-constructive criticism of your work, not reading hundreds of very similar news articles per day that cause you to think the world is ending and take over all your productive hours and conversations with friends, focusing on what makes you truly happy instead of working yourself to death just to have a house/car/lawnmower that looks as good as your next-door neighbor’s.
But apathy is largely pretty useless and unproductive. Being “too cool” for everything is not establishing your impeccable taste, it’s establishing you as a person with a shitty attitude. I don’t know about you, but I’ll tell you who doesn’t get invited back to do fun stuff most of the time: the person who, when everyone else is standing around in the parking lot talking about what a great ride/climb/ski day they had, has to talk about how last Tuesday was better/last time they rode that trail was better/they really don’t see what all the hype is about.
Yeah, spending nine hours in the car for two minutes of eclipse was not fun, nor was the traffic. But between the possibility of making a once-in-a-lifetime memory or staying home and pooh-poohing the whole thing, I’ll take my chances on the former.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather look back on my life and remember having my mind blown, whether it’s an Arctic sunset, seeing the Grand Canyon for the first or twentieth time, or a solar eclipse. The next morning, after seeing the deluge of photos, videos, and other reactions to the eclipse, positive and negative, Hilary said: “I think you can choose to have wonder in your life, or not.”