By Gretchen Althoff Snyder
I guess I was a little late to the party. The day before the first solar eclipse in the country in close to a century I actually focused on the event. Sitting on the beach with a friend on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I began to wonder if maybe I wasn’t taking the “once-in-a-lifetime” occurrence seriously enough. Whenever I watched the news or read something online, the warnings got more and more dire: apparently, looking directly at the moon eclipsing the sun would cause serious, long-term, irreversible damage to your eyes. Uh-oh.
Weeks before I had seen social media posts galore: where to buy the eye-saving solar eclipse glasses, which stores carried them, which stores were sold out. As the day got closer, people were desperately searching for the glasses, asking friends and strangers alike whether they had a pair to spare. I ignored all the commotion and went about my business; much more concerned that the heavy sound of cicadas in my backyard signaled summer was coming to an end.
With August 21 only one day away, the feeding frenzy started to get under my skin. Was I naïve to think my family didn’t need special protective glasses to shield our eyes? Maybe I was being too casual about the whole thing – maybe I was burying my head in the sand, all the while jeopardizing my children’s precious eyesight? At this point, there was little chance of getting my hands on those sought-after viewing glasses without a hefty price tag (I heard scalpers were charging $90 a pair on the Village Green).
That night, I woke up at 2 a.m. with my heart pounding out of my chest. Surely I had not taken this situation seriously enough. What if my boys and I were outside and, despite all our might, could not stop ourselves from looking up to the sky? I imagined flames shooting out of their eyes like something out of a bad 80s horror flick. What if our faces melted off like the character at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark?” In my head, all I could hear was that creepy little lady from Poltergeist whispering, “Come into the light.”
After tossing and turning for a good hour, I finally fell back to sleep. As soon as I woke, I hurried downstairs to my computer to read up on the imminent eclipse and how to protect our eyes from utter destruction. Thankfully, The New York Times had a very informative article with the exact time the sun would be partially eclipsed by the moon in our area, and instructions for an easy-to-make-at-home pinhole projector. All I needed were two pieces of cardboard or paper plates. I breathed a huge sigh of relief – I have paper plates – I can do this!
As 2:44 p.m. approached, I poked a tiny hole in one of the paper plates as instructed (really tiny just to be safe) and anxiously waited for the big moment to arrive. And then it was 2:44. Sadly, my homemade projector failed miserably – maybe the pinhole was just too small. The sky darkened ever so slightly, and my son and I managed to catch a quick glimpse of the eclipse by using the selfie mode on his phone with our backs to the sun. And then, just like that, it was over — at least for us — and our eyes were still in their sockets functioning properly.
The good news for many of us is that the next total solar eclipse in the U.S. will occur April 8, 2024. That gives me plenty of time to order the glasses.