Solar Eclipse Briefly Eases Political Discord in Washington

The solar eclipse at the moment of its maximum coverage. Photo: John Zangas

Washington, D.C. — They say what lurks in the shadows cannot hide in the light. But most everyone was focused on the shadow cast by the moon on Monday as a once-in-a-generation solar eclipse crossed the country from West to East.

Everyone knows the cardinal rule: don’t look directly at the eclipse–well, almost everyone. The President was caught glancing directly at it briefly.

The Smithsonian Air & Space Museum gave out free solar glasses on the National Mall. The line was a half-hour wait. Eclipse hunters also brought their own modern devices: telescopes, telescopic cameras and cell phones. One man brought a welder’s helmet. Some brought simple handmade devices: cardboard boxes and pin-holed papers, which help them to safely view the image of the moon crossing in front of the sun.

Friends share a blanket while they watch the solar eclipse on the National Mall. Photo: John Zangas

At 2:43 pm, the moment of maximum coverage (for this region), the sky had dimmed and the temperature seemed to cool a little bit. For a rare moment, Washington, D.C. saw little disagreement on issues as thousands focused on a rare but simple phenomenon: the shadow of one celestial body crossing over another.

One man named Peter brought a telescope his mother bought from Montgomery Wards years ago and gave him when he was a kid. He set it up under an elm, aimed it at the heavens, and projected a large image of the eclipse. His daughters could barely keep their hands off it. Two new science enthusiasts were born.

His mother did not know she would also be giving the gift of science to the two granddaughters she would never meet. He shared it with everyone and many took photos and recalled stories of eclipses from their pasts.

Others shared their hand made cardboard boxes with strangers, helping to create a closer community. Many took pictures with their cell phones and shared them. The last time a full eclipse passed over the U.S. the age of cell phones was still a Star Trek concept.

Friends laid on blankets and watched together as the once-in-a-lifetime event unfolded.

A man teaches his daughters about solar eclipse safety. He used a telescope his mother gave him over 40 years ago. Photo: John Zangas

And for a while in D.C., there was no left side or right, wrong way or right way, correct policy or one gone awry. There was no discussion of healthcare, war, prejudice or budget concerns. There were no filibusters or bills delayed, no shutdowns and no protests. How can one protest an eclipse anyway?

There were just thousands who came out to enjoy the day, share the experience and watch a rare moment in the celestial order of things. Things sometimes come together the right way to satisfy everybody.

Washington, D.C. needed this.

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