25 August Minister Moment

Monday there was an eclipse. It was an opportunity to celebrate a singular moment in time. You couldn’t say “I’ll go see it Tuesday” –  it was only there on Monday. “Where were you during the eclipse?”

We each responded in our own way. I am an astronomy buff. I had to go. So I drove to South Carolina after Sunday morning, and came back Monday.

I got the astronomy bug from my grandmother, who did her Ph. D. work at Yerkes Observatory almost a century ago. Also my uncle who was an avid amateur astronomer, and had in his basement a telescope mirror he was fashioning to a parabola. He would pull it out now and then and show me the unfinished glass surface, tell me his dream of having it silvered and mounted in a telescope tube. But he seems to have lost interest in the project, and died with a half-complete mirror in his estate – it went into the trash-heap, I guess.

My grandmother never really used her doctorate. She got married and became a homemaker. During WWII she taught astronomy to sailors… the story goes. She also kept up with the literature and this made her dinner table conversations… “cosmic.” They both inspired me to learn about science, a gift I am thankful for.

These two taught me to look deeper. They taught me that physics made things happen. There was a logic, but we might not know what forces drove any particular observation. Listening to theories and seeing how they fit (what makes a pulsar pulse?) could be an excellent way of cultivating wonder. I still enjoy laying back on a clear night and waiting for meteors.

I saw my first total eclipse in March of 1970. The path of totality went right over Norfolk, and then north, just southeast of Cape Cod.  I lived near Boston, Mass. I wanted my parents to take me to Nantucket, but there were no reservations to be had, so a scalloper (illegally) took 20 of us to the tip of a nature preserve island south of Cape Cod. As totality approached (we would have less than 30 seconds in that location) birds quieted, a heard of deer burst out of the woods and charged into the water. A bit stunned, they then turned around and came back to shore. It all was cold and wet and fascinating.

When we got home the next day my parents reserved three spots on the ferry to Nova Scotia for the July 1972 eclipse.

Two years later I got a chance to attend a high school summer science program, so my parents went with my aging grandmother, who loved being a scientist again. I missed my chance to see another one.

So I simply had to drive to South Carolina after church, and Monday I gathered with a few hundred others at an Interstate rest stop. I set up a telescope with solar filter and invited others to come see sunspots. And then the eclipse itself, which is fun. And then a very long drive home, remembering my scientist elders.

What singular events have you said “yes” to? What singular moments do you carry with you? (I’ll spare you the details of the Simon and Garfunkel concert… )

I am dedicated to making this year full of joyous, singular events for Coastal Virginia UU members and for southern Hampton Roads. This Sunday you will hear a variety of voices talking about UU summer events, and  I will also be off over Labor Day. Don’t forget to save some water for September 10. Come share.

I love you,
Rev Charlie