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October 25, 2017 - Image 11

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily

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going on pilgrimages
for eons. Whether

it’s to gaze upon the Shroud
of Turin, visit the tomb of
St. James or stand inside
the vaulted nave of some
distant cathedral, humans
as a species have shown
a remarkable capacity for
uprooting themselves and
their lives just for the chance
to seek out meaning in some
distant destination. In the
Middle Ages, members of the
faithful might travel for weeks
on end to reach a holy site —
some never arrived, and many
never returned.

My trip took three days,

more or less, a sort of hyper-
condensed there and back
again. Automobility is a lovely
thing, really, if you discount
its contribution to the ongoing
ecological catastrophe that is
industrial capitalism. Not that
I actually drove myself, though
— somehow, over the course of
the past half-decade or so, I’ve
managed to avoid getting a
driver’s license. I even took a
driver’s education course once,
but never followed up on the
actual license acquisition part.
Honestly, this fact probably
isn’t a positive, but I’ve come
to view it as a kind of eccentric
point of pride. Regardless,
when it came time to make the
journey, I was reliant on two
friends to make my way there.

Oh yeah, we went to see the

eclipse. That’s there.

Does anyone really want to

read about people going on
a road trip of self-discovery
anymore? We’ve had Kerouac,
Nabokov and all the rest of
them, so why bother with
another? But whether we’ve
had enough, somehow I can’t
settle on any other story of
my own to share, at least not
one that I’d be comfortable
presenting in a public setting.
So this is what you get to read
about, something that maybe
has something meaningful

to say but, unlike some other
topics I considered, doesn’t
make me address any of the

bouncing around my head.
So, tired a topic though it is,
this is what I have, cliché and


enjoyable. I’d rather this piece
not be documentarian in
nature, but a few things that
happened are worth writing
down. Somewhere in Ohio on

the first day we stopped at a
diner for breakfast, whereat
I was called a quitter by our
server for turning down
a 14th cup of coffee. Once
we made it to Kentucky,
the scenery was beautiful,
and once we were on the
winding mountain roads of
the Appalachians, one of my
friends took the wheel and
led us on a high-speed ride

thrilling and terrifying.

When we arrived at my

family’s home in Georgia, we
were exhausted and happy
to have a rest. We spend the
night socializing with my
parents, who were happy
to actually see me at all

last summer (I took classes
spring and summer terms),
and turned in relatively early
to compensate for the hour at
which we had to rise the next
morning. When we got up, we
hopped in the car and rode an
hour or so north, traveling by
back roads to avoid traffic.

Not surprisingly, when we

entered the path of totality
there were absurd numbers
of people. The eclipse was
certainly the largest secular

pilgrimage I can think of,
and it showed. Conservative
estimates suggest that 20
million people went out of
their way to watch it, less
conservative (ironically from
the University of Michigan)
estimates give 215 million
as the number. A CNN poll
beforehand indicated that a
full half of the U.S. population
at least considered watching
it. Somehow we found a
place to park, and along with
innumerable others, set about
climbing a mountain in a state
park to get the best view. By
this point in the day, the wet,
Southern August heat felt
oppressive, and though it was
an easy trek, the walk felt long.

In front of us on our way up
was a shirtless, hippie-ish man
burning incense and playing
a wooden recorder. I really
wonder what his story is.

At the apex of the mountain

a crowd had gathered, far too
many people to really settle
in comfortably, so we looked
around for alternative viewing
options. After a consultation

decided to hike back down the
mountain (via a different route)

in search of a lake that was
allegedly there. Thankfully, it
was, and after a few miles we
arrived at the lakeside about an
hour and a half before totality.
So, we waited.

I’m not certain what to say

about the eclipse itself. The sky
went dark and the temperature

in uncanny ways and colors
changed to subtly strange hues.
Crickets began to chirp and
birds flew in confused circles.
A few bright stars appeared in
the sky. For a few minutes, it
felt as if the world had stopped
turning on its axis — the whole
thing was eerily biblical, really.
When it passed, a moment had
to be taken just to reorient.

Months later, the event (aside

from being a memory that is just
generally “cool”) left me with
a few muddled up thoughts.
Sitting there, watching as one
gargantuan object passed in
front of another astronomically


— larger one, I just couldn’t
shake the feelings associated
with being incredibly small
compared to the sheer scale of
the forces involved with what
I was seeing. I’ve always had a
sort of cursory fascination with
the cosmos, in a kind of gee-isn’t-
sort of way, and every so often
— usually at night, always
when alone — I experience this
almost physical sensation of my
person collapsing down into
somewhere in my viscera while
the whole incomprehensible
expanse of the cosmos opens
above me. Watching the eclipse
was like that, but in slow


about the expression “one in a
million.” Most often it’s used to
convey this idea of uniqueness,
a kind of “you are special”
utterance. But to my ears it can
take on a far less comforting
tone. When I hear “one in a
million,” it reminds me of the
mind-boggling immensity of
it all, and of my own relative
smallness. One out of a million
is a very insignificant piece.
But in journeying to see this
astronomical event, I was
one in millions, not a million.
And the star that I watched
be blotted out, our own life-
giving incandescent orb, isn’t
even one in millions, but one
in septillions. The hugeness
of the universe is literally
inconceivable to me. And
that’s why, in the scheme of it
all, I’m not sure what exactly
my eclipse pilgrimage means,
if anything at all. Maybe the
lesson is simply that you’re
not always the main character
in the story you thought of as
your own.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017 // The Statement

Personal Statement: Eclipse



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