This past Monday, a swath of the United States experienced a solar eclipse. Hordes of people flocked to areas of the country that experienced the full eclipse, and people in much of the rest of the country stood outside with their eclipse glasses on to watch the moon take a bite out of the sun.
And where was I? In Saint Petersburg, Russia.
On Monday, I regretted that decision. So many friends were posting photos and impressions of their eclipse experiences, whether they experienced totality in places like South Carolina, Nebraska, and Illinois, or they experienced a partial eclipse in places like Boston and New York City. And there I was, in Russia, where I hadn’t even seen the sun all day thanks to the clouds and rain.
On Monday, I regretted my decision, but not today.
Because today, I got on a plane in Helsinki to fly back from my trip, and I got to travel through time. The plane took off around around 2:40 pm. Eight and a half hours later, we landed in New York… at 4:10 pm. After eight and a half hours of travel, only an hour and a half had passed.
Today, for me, the sun stood still.
Okay, so maybe the sun didn’t quite stand still, but it came pretty close.
And while I couldn’t see the sun out the airplane windows, I could see the sky, and the clouds below me. The sky was a shade of blue that was… subtly different from what I see on the ground. Up there, it had just the barest tinge of lavender. And it was darker on top, growing lighter toward the horizon where it blended with the clouds.
And I realized that this, too, was a marvelous sight. There I was, looking down at the clouds. Seeing the tops of the clouds, the way they pile up in lumpy piles, or spread themselves out like a frozen white lake.
It’s a sight I’ve learned to take for granted.
After all, these days, I travel by plane for at least one trip per year.
But then, I remember that my great-grandparents never got to see the clouds from above. They never got to know that the sky up there is a subtly different color. They never got to enter that strange, fantastical world.
And while I was up there, I thought about space travel. I thought about the astronaut, Kjell Lindgren, who spoke at the convention I attended in Helsinki. (Worldcon, the World Science Fiction Convention.) He described what it was like to see the Earth from space, and it sounds amazing. It sounds like something you have to experience in order to truly understand.
Like watching an eclipse.
Or like seeing the clouds from above.
I wonder, did the first air travelers feel like today’s astronauts when they got up above the clouds?
And yesterday, I saw something else that filled me with awe. Something even more mundane than air travel, unless you stop and actually take notice.
Yesterday, I saw the sun set over Helsinki.
I saw the clouds turn gold and peach and pink, like a vast watercolor painting, spread out across the sky, a work of art so huge, it dwarfed the buildings below it.
And as I stood there, camera in hand, I considered how unique this sunset was, how this particular sunset will never recur. There may be other beautiful sunsets, but the clouds will be different, the colors will be different, the beauty will take a different shape.
And if I’d gone home for the eclipse, I would have missed that sunset.
And yes, I know, sunset happens every day. But not this particular sunset. Not that particular moment.
And while I am still a little sad that I missed the eclipse, I don’t regret the travel plans I made.
Today, I traveled through time, and for me, the sun stood still.
And that’s pretty amazing.