This is Part 2 of Tennessee Totality – See Part 1.
Just before Totality, I was hit with dizzy-spells. At about 98% Totality, the light shifted, casting us in a sepia, antique-photo world. Everyone was different and looked different, and I was different. The sunlight dimmed, but not like clouds passing. No, before 100% Totality, the sun still blazes overhead in a clear-blue sky, it is blinding and soaking the world with sunlight, so strong is the sun. Still, the sunlight is dimmed. I felt like I was fading out of consciousness, so Vertigo flickered in my body. My biology knows this is unreal! I thought.
When Chris yelled about a star, I nearly toppled over, and suddenly it was 100% Totality. Chris was right—there, in a dark, deep-purple sky, a fat, white dot glowed. Yet it was midday, about 1:30 PM, and other stars appeared. Overhead a black moon was blocking the sun, but it
looked like a black sun—with streams of corona light circling it, like an aura or halo.
Seconds ago we were suffocating in sweltering, midday-Tennessee heat, but the eclipse plunged us into an evening cool-down. Still, after the temperature dropped from 91 into the 70s, my face was dripping in sweat because it could not process the changes fast enough. When the sun goes black, it becomes clear how all biology hangs by a thread on the sun, because the whole planet would die instantly if it snapped—another it just so happens lucky-break atheist faith is built on. An eclipse pronounces all life is just a fragile hold of sunlight.
“It should stay like this for a whole week!” hollered one of our new Tennessee friends. But that would be very scary, I thought. Everyone was talking to nobody with odd comments, while I snapped pictures and got pushed around by the day-night-day stimuli all around.
A shirtless, drunken hillbilly was yelling, “Woo! Woo! Live it up people!” Jumping up and down, “Ain’t it great to be alive? C’mon live it up!” It was Moonshine Jamie, one of our hosts, so I felt compelled to obey and let out a hillbilly-whoop, but it came out like an uptight, city-boy whelp. I was the only damn-fool Yankee trying to hillbilly-whoop. Everyone else was in awe, gasping and murmuring at the Dahliesque world we stood in.
“Can someone please shut him up?” one of his kinfolk said. “He’s embarrassing us!” Shut me up, I wondered? My atheist-buddy old Charlie told Jamie to shut it. It worked only for seconds, Jamie forgot, and was whooping again.
Then it was gone—the sun bounced back in blinding glory. It lasted not even three minutes. I thought we might see raccoon family creeping across the yard, ready for a night-time prowl but caught off-guard, but no. The heat was came back and the traces of Totality disappeared. A few brief minutes stunned everyone, left us milling around disoriented, wondering what to do.
I walked over to Big Charlie. It was time to share the Taser.
“Charlie, can I say something about God and this eclipse?”
“Sure,” he said. So I explained the 400 by 400 “just so happens” impossibility, which he agreed was incredible.
“The real question is why, if there is a Creator, would He set up these Totality moments?” Charlie nodded and sipped his beer. So I explained the Bible says God uses nature to reveal his character, and an eclipse stops and stuns us. It is a little scary. But not too scary, because even the most ancient human can see the moon is blocking the sun—the moon is visible during daylight—and it only lasts a few minutes. But it is, like, a gentle reminder there are forces beyond our control. It makes you stop and think, ‘Is there a Creator?’ without terrifying you.”
“Well, like I say, I think shit happens,” Charlie said.
“Yes, that could be true,” I said, waiting to see if I was allowed to continue. He seemed OK with it. “All I’m saying is that, if there is a God, the eclipse is a picture of what he’s like—because he could terrify us with his presence, but he doesn’t. If he used his hand up to cover up the sun, that would be convincing and extremely terrifying. He doesn’t do that. Instead, he just leaves his fingerprints, saying, ‘God was here.’ Like a gentle, kind notice, and gives us a chance to think about it. Because that’s all he’s asking for, ‘Just give me a chance…'”
“Well I agree with Charlie, I’m an atheist too,” said a guy who just arrived. He said he was the best friend of Charlie’s dead son, and talked more about the suicide a year ago. It strikes me that some people experience so much pain and suffering, atheism seems the best option, because if God exists he is a monster, allowing such things.
All the kindness of our hosts to this point was overshadowed by what followed. They broke out a southern feast for these wandering, damn Yankees, and by “feast” I mean smoked, pulled pork, chicken, shrimp, Greek salad, sweet corn-on-the-cob…the supply was endless! Somehow, Charlie cooked enough food in advance like he knew a couple dozen Yankees were coming, because these hillbillies could never eat it all. Everyone was stuffed.
As I rounded up the damn Yankees to git along, I opened my wallet and handed Charlie $10.
“I don’t mean to offend, I’m just saying I know this cost a lot…”
“Put that away!” Charlie hollered at me. Woah. “I should be paying you for visiting us!” He opened his wallet and pulled out a $100 bill and stuffed it in my hand. “Here, take it.”
“No, no,” I said, horrified! “I don’t need this.”
“Then give it to someone who does,” Charlie said and put his wallet away. That was that. “You people are doing good work up there.” Is Charlie an atheist? Or is he God-friendly, just tormented by a dark world that lives in Spiritual Totality?
So it ended—the day of the black sun, on some nameless mountain in Tennessee.
Except for one thing—after all them damn Yankees abandoned me to pack up and clean up our campsite alone, load it all and drive it back (like a pack mule!), on the way home I hit a snag. My jeep suffered a bizarre breakdown. I was stranded in Southern Indiana, near the Ohio river, plumb-near out of cash. Except, of course, for the money Charlie stuffed in my hands. Charlie saved me from a miserable experience. God’s provision through an atheist, I wondered?
Charlie, if you’re out there, we are so indebted to you. I hope we meet again. Especially in heaven.
- Tennessee Totality
- “Christian-friendly” Yoga?