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Phenomenal Disappointment

I missed the eclipse. Through no fault of my own, I would hasten to point out. My view of the moon being covered by the shadow of the sun was covered by clouds, thick and bulbous and gunmetal gray. I kept going outside, looking up into the eastern sky which is, as it turns out, a rather large general area and while I had a pretty good idea of where the moon was supposed to be – somewhere up and to the right of the grain bins – I never got a single glimpse.

I was disappointed. I am old enough now that when things happen that won’t happen again for a period of time to which people refer in something other than numbers – decade, score, century – , I stop to wonder whether I will be around for it. (If it’s true that it will be another twenty years before the super blood moon coincides with the lunar eclipse, I will be on the other side of the three score and ten birthdays mentioned with equal parts gratitude and resignation in the Psalms.)

I am also old enough now to recover from disappointments with a fair amount of aplomb. When it became apparent that the thickness was not going to evaporate, that the eerie Jello-like tremble of clouds was not soon to dissipate, that no amount of Linus Van Pelt-level sincerity was going to grant me a glimpse of the big red beach ball of a moon, I gave up. Gave up by carrying myself back across the yard on wet feet, avoiding armadillo holes as best I could, and climbing into bed.

Two days later, halfway home from a walk in the damp dusk, I saw the blazing star. One solitary stalk clinging to the cliff edge of the ditch, a spiky iridescent mascara wand of purple, the first of fall. Feeling the need to extend greetings of some sort, I slowed down and turned toward it, only to see not one stem shivering in a breeze so slight I couldn’t feel it, but a patch of twenty, thirty, maybe more. So thin and fine were the flowers, like filaments in an incandescent light bulb, that they blurred into a low haze, arcing over the wiregrass and palmetto scrubbs like a single-color rainbow.

I felt my chest rise despite the fact that I had not taken a breath and I realized that my body was filling, not with air, but with gratitude, a singular sensation combining awe and unworthiness with comfort and peacefulness and, most of all, belonging.

Two days before, the afternoon of the night on which I did not see the eclipse, the blazing star had not been there. Or, if it had been there, it hadn’t bloomed. Or, if it had bloomed, it had not beckoned to me. Two days before, when I walked the same road, made the same footprints, I had not seen nor been seen by these extravagant heralds of fall, intent as I was to get home, intent as I was to see the eclipse.

I missed the eclipse and I almost missed the blazing star. But I didn’t.

This summer I read a book about a woman who spent a couple of years of her life chasing phenomenon – the migration of monarch butterflies in Mexico, bioluminescence in Puerto Rico, the aurora borealis in Sweden, the lightning display of Catatumbo, Venezuela. She lives, I noticed, in North Carolina.

There is every reason in the world to chase the phenomenal, to seek out the wondrous, to experience creation from as many angles as possible. Every reason in the world to stay up late, get up early, run farther, hike higher in order to see and hear, taste and touch that which is astounding and extraordinary and remarkable. And part of the seeing and hearing and tasting and touching can be feeling disappointment when what you experience is not what you expected.

But what is just as important, maybe even a little bit more, is understanding that the phenomenal is not limited to that which is far away or that which occurs only rarely. The phenomenal is everywhere. The phenomenal is here. And now. And no one has to miss that.

Copyright 2015

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