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by Dan Brawner Columnist · August 31st, 2017


I know it sounds ridiculous to take off from work on a Monday and drive four hours just to see the sun disappear for three minutes. After all, if you're willing to wait for it, darkness isn't that much of a novelty. But estimates were that about half the population of the United States alone was planning to stop what they were doing to watch the moon's shadow briefly cover the sun, making this one of the most widely observed events in all of human history.

We could have stayed home and be satisfied with a glimpse of a partial eclipse, but the next total eclipse wouldn't come around for another 100 years. So my friend Steve and I decided to pack up and head south to experience what was being heralded as "the totality."

Monday morning, the weather forecast did not look good. Lightning split the sky over Davenport and the rain came down like a carwash. Everywhere we looked, the special eclipse glasses had been sold out. But judging from the blackened sky, it looked like this was not going to be an issue.

There were reports of traffic jams in cities along the narrow path of the eclipse, hotel rooms were sold out, food trucks and porta potties lined major streets like sandbags waiting for a flood. But driving south toward our destination of Mexico, Mo., it looked like just another Monday commute.

As we crossed into Missouri, the rain stopped and the clouds thinned out, revealing a brilliant summer sun, oblivious to the lunar assault that awaited it. By the time we arrived in Mexico, Mo., population 11,680, the sun was blazing and we were looking for a bit of shade. We stopped into the Mexico-Audrain County Library and asked where we might purchase glasses to safely watch the eclipse. The librarians were remarkably warm and friendly and gave us several suggestions, although warning that every place probably sold out weeks before.

It turned out a big-box was sold out. Gas stations were sold out. The corner jewelry store used to have them, but not since July. And yet, everyone we spoke to was so pleasant and welcoming, we soon forgot our disappointment.

Finally, as the time of the eclipse drew near, we decided to give up our search for the glasses and follow the librarian's suggestion and go to the local park, where there was to be an eclipse celebration. There, police were directing traffic and invited us into the park as if we were their old friends. A woman at a table asked folks from out of town to sign a poster advertising the event. "Would you like eclipse glasses?" she asked. "They're free."

I guess it was just a day of miracles. We got to see the amazing phenomenon of a total eclipse just as clouds rolled in and thunder rumbled theatrically. All around us in the park, people were laughing and talking, looking up at the sky.

As a holiday, there was something very different about it. It wasn't like Christmas or Thanksgiving, when you know what you're supposed to do. The eclipse was a free day. It was a day to look up from our routines at the same moment and connect with the inexplicable wonder of living on Earth.
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