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Total solar eclipse: Get thee to the path of totality

Deacon Jason Pohlmeier writes about the wonder of witnessing a total solar eclipse

Published: March 27, 2024   
Anyone planning to witness the total solar eclipse April 8 will need eclipse glasses, like the ones pictured above. (Wikimedia Commons)

I once heard a priest talk about “the shock of non-being.” At certain moments in life, we realize we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves, so far beyond our comprehension, that we are struck with the frightening reality that we are not necessary. 

We suddenly realize that the universe will continue spinning without us. Yet, here we are. God’s love, not our individual significance, is the sole reason we have the great privilege of walking this earth. 

Never have I felt that shock more profoundly than standing in the shadow of the moon Aug. 21, 2017. That day, the “Great American Eclipse” spanned the country from coast to coast. This was the first total eclipse in the U.S. mainland in the era of social media, and it captured the public imagination as no eclipse had before. I checked my kids out of school and headed to Jefferson City, Mo., for the experience. 

On April 8, the next American solar eclipse will occur, and the majority of Arkansas is within the path of totality. I am writing this to convince you of one thing — GO SEE IT! A total solar eclipse is unforgettable. 

In the hour leading up to the main event, colors change before your eyes, shadows alternate between eerily sharp and unusually fuzzy and the entire sky dims as mid-day twilight approaches. The horizon lights up in a 360-degree “sunset.” 

Animals begin their nighttime routines, and the cacophony of crickets rises. Stars and planets appear in the afternoon sky. The moon appears as a black hole in the sky as the corona rays of the sun, normally hidden by the sun itself, become visible to the naked eye (you can remove your eclipse glasses in the totality and only in the totality) as they shoot literally millions of miles into space. In the totality, viewers witness the glory of the first and fourth days of God’s creation in an otherwise impossible way. 

If you allow it to be, a total eclipse becomes a moving spiritual experience. But experiencing this is only possible if you are in the path of totality. 

The path of totality is a 117-mile-wide band of moon-shadow called the umbra. If you are inside the umbra, you will see the magnificent sights described above. However, if you are even slightly outside the umbra, you will see an uninspiring sliver of the sun through your eclipse glasses. Get thee to the path of totality! 

Most Arkansans simply must step out of their front doors and look to the sky around 2 that afternoon. Those of us in the northwest and southeast parts of the state need to travel a bit. Search online for “Arkansas Eclipse” to see which cities are in the path of totality, exactly what time it will start, and how long it will last. 

The closer you are to the center — De Queen, Russellville, Morrilton, Mountain View — the longer you will get to enjoy this unique aspect of God’s glory. Just plan ahead. The Arkansas Department of Transportation is preparing for 200,000 tourists in our state that day.

Psalm 19 announces, “the heavens declare the glory of God, the firmament proclaims the works of his hands,” and you have a front-row seat! I will see you in the shadow April 8.

Deacon Jason Pohlmeier is the principal of St. Joseph School in Fayetteville.

Read more in our 2024 Solar Eclipse section here.

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