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My Eclipse: On Losing People, Places, Things

Like many people I know, the Solar Eclipse of April 8, 2024 got me thinking about a great many things. I know for some it was hardly a blip on their radar – maybe a phenomenon they could not view from where they were, or something they chose to ignore entirely. I belong to a spirituality (I have come to hate the word “religion”) that embraces nature and natural phenomena and one that sees the Earth – indeed the entire Universe – as alive. A solar eclipse is certainly a scientific phenomenon that can be observed and measured, but it is also a natural wonder that can make us gasp in awe and reflect on our lives.

There was a great deal of cloud cover from where I tried to watch the eclipse. This happened to be in the parking lot of the student center at the university where I teach. There were little groups of students, faculty, and staff scattered all around looking up at the same time. It was one of those rare moments of unity. We all persevered in spite of the clouds. I sat alone on my car and tried to look up. Still, sometimes the clouds would move and I could see the outline of the moon as it edged its way over the sun. The clouds made it possible for me to look up without using solar safe glasses. I watched as the sky grew darker and the air grew colder. And then I watched as ever so quickly, everything brightened, and the day warmed into somewhere in the high 70s. It was over, and everyone returned to whatever they had been doing before. I was feeling a metaphor come on, but I needed to go to Target to pick up an ink cartridge and paper. (Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water).

As I drove away from the university, I thought about the Egyptian myth about the serpent Apep attempting to swallow up the solar barque of the Sun God Ra every night, and that on occasion, Apep would succeed. Many scholars believe this was how ancient Egyptians explained the solar eclipse. Apep represented chaos, and Ra represented order. There are stories that tell us that Apep is a serpent because he was actually born out of Ra’s umbilical cord at Ra’s birth. The metaphor there is that darkness and light must coexist and are part of one another. Light (joy) and darkness (loss) go hand in hand.

In the past two weeks, I have had two people whom I held dear tell me in so many words that they no longer desire the pleasure of my company. I won’t go into why this is so or where the blame lies (they will argue the blame is on me), but I will say that it has caused me a lot of pain. Neither of these were romantic relationships, but like the end of a romantic relationship in a way it is worse than losing someone because they have died. I know these two people will still be out there and that they do not wish to see me.

This particular thing happens to everyone at some point in their lives, for one reason or another. A person changes and either decides in a forthright way that it is time for them to move on from a relationship or else the relationship just dies from lack of attention. The refrain “people change” rings in my head. The knowledge of it is not particularly comforting. What can be done? One cannot coerce another to love them.

Directly on the heels of losing these friendships, I learned that the college where I had earned my MFA was going to be closing its doors permanently. In 2009, I graduated from Goddard College, located in Plainfield, Vermont. Although the program I attended was low-residency – we only had to stay on campus for eight days for each of the six semesters we attended – I benefitted from attending there as much as I had attending and living at the university where I received my BFA. I have so many wonderful memories – and most of the wonderful memories are not connected to intellectual discourse or the research I did or the resulting thesis – but of my friends with whom I spent many happy hours talking and eating and just enjoying one another’s company twice a year for three years. Vermont is beautiful, and I adored the unconventional nature of both our college campus and the program, which was based on very progressive ideas about higher education. Although I had not been back to visit the campus, I was very saddened to learn it was closing due to lack of funds. Again, I felt rather helpless. What could be done?

            I felt as caught in my sadness as the sun captured by the serpent. How could I escape? In the Egyptian myth, Ra transformed himself into a cat, and speared his way out using a spear given to him by his worst enemy: the god of chaos, Set. As much as I admired my feline companions, I did not have the ability to transform myself into one. No enemies arrived to loan me a spear – or the millions of dollars it would take to save Goddard. In those hours, I slowly began to remember the advice I have given to so many others facing situations over which they have no control.

            No, I cannot coerce someone to love me anymore than I can quickly find a major donor to save my alma mater. I can, however, remember that although I can’t control a given situation, I can decide how I will cope with the consequences of things that have happened. The ancient Egyptians relied on the Sun rising every day, and they counted on Ra being able to free himself from the Serpent’s mouth whenever there was an eclipse. Then as now, the Sun would re-emerge and the skies would return to bright blue.

            Loss is inevitable, but loss of hope and optimism doesn’t have to be. We can remember who we are, remember where we came from, and remember the strength of the memories of the places we love and the people who continue to love us. Darkness follows Day, Day follows Darkness. There is an ebb and flow to all things. We lose things and places we love. We mourn. We wake up the next day. Sometimes we need to let go of that which is lost so that we are unencumbered on our way out of the loss.




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