"The heart screeched.": on not writing about the total eclipse

That's what Annie Dillard wrote about the two minutes of total eclipse that she witnessed near Yakima, Washington in 1979. "The heart screeched." Her essay "Total Eclipse," which is part of the collection Teaching a Stone To talk, is stunning not only for Dillard's description of what she sees but her reflections on what it means:

"At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed. Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. The hole where the sun belongs is very small. A thin ring of light marked its place. There was no sound. The eyes dried, the arteries drained, the lungs hushed. There was no world. We were the world’s dead people rotating and orbiting around and around, embedded in the planet’s crust, while the Earth rolled down. Our minds were light-years distant, forgetful of almost everything. Only an extraordinary act of will could recall to us our former, living selves and our contexts in matter and time. We had, it seems, loved the planet and loved our lives, but could no longer remember the way of them. We got the light wrong. In the sky was something that should not be there. In the black sky was a ring of light. It was a thin ring, an old, thin silver wedding band, an old, worn ring. It was an old wedding band in the sky, or a morsel of bone. There were stars. It was all over."

I recently saw a call for submissions from a journal that said the editors didn't want to read any more essays about cancer, addiction, or lobsters. (Lobsters?) But I've long told my students that if they can find a fresh approach, they can write about any topic even though millions of people have already done so, even though it is cancer and addiction. (Since I've only received one essay about lobsters here in Nebraska, and that, a very good one, I don't mention them). Of course, that's also true of a total eclipse.

On the morning of August 21, 2017, just a little over four hours away from my first total eclipse, I can't predict what my response will be to this event. I may very well write about it. But then again, I may simply press my palms together in front of my heart and bow my head to Annie Dillard and her masterful essay. 


Lisa Knopp