Yesterday Afternoon

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We interrupt your regularly scheduled EngiNerds-themed blog posts in order to deliver the following message . . .

Yesterday afternoon, like millions of people all across the country, I set aside what I was doing and headed outside. I was off, of course, to see the eclipse, my homemade pinhole projector in tow.

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I’d heard my local library was hosting a viewing party out on their lawn, and so that’s where I went. By the time I got there, a couple hundred people had already gathered. I scanned the crowd as I looked for a spot to set myself up, and was amazed to see the range of people who’d taken time out of their days to simply come look up at the sky. There were young and old and people of every age in between.

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I took a seat on a free patch of grass and began to test out my projector. It needed some last-minute tweaks, but all things considered, it worked great – exactly how all the bloggers and reporters promised it would. I checked the time, saw that I still had a handful of minutes before things really got going up there, and so decided to take a little break from hunching and squinting and concentrating on the tiny ball of light at the back of my projector.

I ended up falling into conversation with the people around me. One group that I’d assumed to be a family – a little girl, accompanied by her mother and grandmother – turned out not to be. The older lady wasn’t related to the girl and her mother at all, and had never met them before yesterday. She lived in the apartment building down the street from the library, and had fallen into conversation with the girl and her mother just like I had, and just a few minutes before I’d arrived. But they’d hit it off so well that I was soon being asked to take pictures of the trio, all of them wanting something in addition to their memories to commemorate the day.

All of a sudden a ripple of excitement passed through the crowd. Everyone who didn’t already have on their special eclipse-viewing glasses put them on, and all of us who’d come with projection boxes turned around and got them up to our eyes or plopped them down over our heads.

I’d been watching the moon creep across the sun for a couple of minutes when I felt a tapping on my shoulder. I looked, and saw the little girl I’d been sitting with. She looked at me, and then at my cardboard box, and then at me again.

“Where are your glasses?” she asked.

I told her I didn’t have a pair, and though the answer seemed to perturb her, she went back to looking up at the sun. And I went back to my projector – for a moment, at least. Because it wasn’t long before there was another tap on my shoulder.

The girl was holding her glasses out to me. “Wanna trade?”

I explained to her that watching the projection of the eclipse, while undoubtedly cool, was way less cool than looking right at it with her special glasses.

She gave me a look that seemed to say she would be judge of that, and then shoved her glasses at me.

I took them, and after showing her how to use the projector – “Cool!” she exclaimed (and fairly believably, too) – I put on her glasses, looked up, and watched the show.

I only kept her glasses for a minute, maybe not even. They were hers, after all, and I also thought it far more important for her to see the eclipse, to have her experience of this exciting day be as vivid and special as possible. And anyway, I felt happy enough just being there, among a group of hundreds who, like me, had stopped what they were doing in order to come together to do something as simple and magical as look up at the sky.

Looking around at the crowd, I saw so many other wonderful acts of kindness. There were kids passing their glasses to their siblings, neighbors, and friends. There was a man who’d rigged up a big telescope, and he was ushering over young and old alike, urging them to take a look through it. A couple of generous, super prepared parents had brought homemade baked goods and a variety of other snacks, and were going around handing them out. One woman, who’d showed up early with bags of empty cereal boxes and rolls of tape and aluminum foil was helping a handful of kids build some sort of crazy contraption out of her leftover supplies.

I don’t know about you, but things like eclipses always help me put things into perspective. I mean, how can you not feel small while watching massive stars and satellites swing around up above? But small isn’t necessarily bad. And multiple small people coming together – that can help make something big. A fun party. A healthy, supportive community.

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The eclipse was amazing, and I’m so glad I got to see it. But the sights that’ll stay with me the longest, the moments that I’ll remember when thinking back on yesterday, won’t be those that happened up in the sky. They’ll be those that, thanks to the break from our regular lives and the perspective afforded to us by those celestial events, happened right here, down on the ground. I’ll think of the little girl who traded her special glasses for my rinky-dink projector and all the other small, magical acts of kindness I witnessed out on the library grass under the sun and moon and sky.

. . . and now back to your regularly scheduled blogging.

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