Eclipsed by Jamie Kirkpatrick


Wondrous things are afoot in the heavens. Whether you made it to the seventy-mile-wide Path of Totality that stretched from Oregon to South Carolina and turned day into night for a couple of eerie minutes, or were merely close enough to perceive a hushed mid-day twilight, you have to admit that a total solar eclipse is a pretty awe-inspiring celestial event. So why am I feeling so eclipsed?

It probably has to do with more earthly events: in Barcelona. In Charlottesville. In Kissimmee, Florida. In Afghanistan and Iraq. On the Korean peninsula. In the White House and in Russia. For reasons I can’t begin to fathom, those of us who inhabit this mortal plain don’t seem capable of anything as remotely awe-inspiring as a total eclipse of the sun. In fact, just the opposite seems increasingly true. For example, whether we voted for him or not, we just elected a President without moral authority, a very flawed man-child with a trunk full of personal insecurities and a damnable inability to speak the truth, unwilling to accept any measure of personal responsibility, astoundingly unable to unequivocally condemn white supremacy and the inherent racism that has infected America since its slave-holding roots—a man (in other words) who leaves us all with the kind of dread that makes us open our smart phones every morning just to make sure we’re all still alive.

If you’ve been reading these Musings over the past year-and-a-half, you know I try to keep things light. But recently, like so many others, I can no longer sail blithely past the events of the past couple of weeks. I’m sorry, but avoidance behavior is no longer an option. Like the CEOs who recently resigned from the President’s various Advisory Economic Councils or the the artists who imploded the President’s Arts Council, it’s time to R-E-S-I-S-T.

An eclipse is a natural phenomenon. According to NASA scientists, if you live in the United States, you’re lucky if you experience a total solar eclipse—the brief moments when the moon passes directly between the Earth and the Sun—once or twice in your lifetime. There hasn’t been one visible across the expanse of North America since 1918. (In February 1979—Jimmy Carter was in the White House!—a total eclipse was briefly visible in the northwest corner of the state of Washington. The next total solar eclipse visible in a large part of the United States will be in April 2024; I might get to see that one. After that, we have to wait until 2045. I doubt I’ll be around.

The Trump administration, however, is not a natural phenomenon. It is an aberration brought on by an odious individual who somehow slipped between us and the sunlight of our better selves, casting a long, black umbra of hate, bigotry, and fear over the landscape. But whether as a result of all the daily churning within the West Wing, or through impeachment by disillusioned members of his own party in Congress, or even by his own hand—resignation—Trump’s days seem numbered. I plan to be around for that eclipse, although I’m not at all sure that a Pence administration would be any better. It could well be worse. Sad!

Back on the celestial front, a total eclipse is really only a matter of speed and simple geometry. When the orbit of the moon brings it between the Earth and the sun, the moon’s greater proximity to Earth distorts the relative size of our two favorite heavenly bodies so that the moon seems to obscure the sun, extinguishing daylight for a minute or two along a Path of Totality which moves across the continent at an astonishing speed of 1,800 mph. Meanwhile, back down here on the ground, the political geometry seems much more complicated and hopelessly slow.  Watching it unfold with special glasses won’t help; continuing to protest, elevating the truth, and resisting will.

I’ll be right back.

(PS: if you want to read a hauntingly beautiful description of a total solar eclipse, I highly recommend Annie Dillard’s classic essay,”Total Eclipse.” It first appeared in an anthology of her work titled “Teaching a Stone to Talk” in 1982; it is reprinted in this month’s Atlantic magazine.”)

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was released in May and is already in its second printing. Jamie’s website is


Letters to Editor

  1. Robert Moores says:

    Jamie nailed it. I couldn’t have said it as well.

  2. Michael Brunner says:

    Red Rover, Red Rover come on over! Steve has gone thru the Cape Cod Tunnel and has enter into the pull of resistance so prevalent in Massachusetts, past and present. Along side the spirits of Samuel Adams and Abbie Hoffman (two of his favorite Bay Staters), Steve can be seen in Fountain Park speaking out against the current Administration. Are you with him?

  3. Deirdre LaMotte says:

    Thank you for your beautiful writing and honesty. The last six months have been vital for all sane people to speak out…not always easy. Many find the idea of slashing taxes and having a conservative court so important that perhaps Hitler would have appealed to them 85 years ago. And others find their fear of the non-white so intense that a crotch-grabbing man is appealing.

    Trump is a sad disaster that only reflects the sad state of character of many Americans.

Write a Letter to the Editor on this Article

We encourage readers to offer their point of view on this article by submitting the following form. Editing is sometimes necessary and is done at the discretion of the editorial staff.