I do not like transitions. I would much rather be in something tough than on my way into it. The wind up to back-to-school and the wind up to the solar eclipse made me realize that I am way more comfortable with difficult than uncertainty.
Our daughter is headed to middle school. Recently, I took her school-supply shopping with her friend. When it came time to choose backpacks and binders, her friend was excited, “Ooooh! I want this purple backpack! What color do you want?”
“Black,” our daughter mumbled, unamused by this activity.
“How about binders? Do you want this pretty turquoise one?” asked her friend.
“No. Black,” our daughter said, scowling.
Our daughter is not Goth (yet). She just doesn’t like transitions. She loves the freedom of summer. She fears the worst about school and gets tied up in knots with worry. I went to the worry place, too, in anticipation of her challenges. I lost sleep, tossing and turning, wondering, “Did we make the right choice of schools?” “Will she make friends?” “Will her teachers be great?” Actually, I was less curious and more panicky. But, by admitting that I had dark emotions around this uncertain time, it made talking with her about it much easier.
“Honey, what is one thing that would make this transition go better?” I asked.
“Cancel school,” she grumbled.
“One thing that you have control over?”
“If I knew how to open a locker,” she said.
Phew! We found a simple way to make this transition easier. We talked about moments of transition that she has survived in the past, while we practiced spinning a lock’s dial to the right, then to the left, then back to the right. She was in it now, instead of worrying about it. When the lock opened, she shouted, “I got it!” and paraded around the room with the lock over her head, like she had slam-dunked the solving of a 16-sided Rubix Cube.
Meanwhile, I was making life harder for myself by trying to predict the future instead of just being in the present. I couldn’t decide if I should travel to the path of totality for the eclipse or stay at home. Where I live, in the hippie and geek highlands of Boulder, Colorado, the newscasters announced that over 100,000 people planned to drive north to Wyoming to see the total eclipse. I felt like everyone knew something that I didn’t. But apparently not everyone in the country was as excited about the celestial phenomenon. I called my friend Deb in Vermont. I asked her, “If I don’t go to see the total eclipse on August 21st, do you think I’ll regret it forever?” She paused. I thought that meant, “Yes.” Instead, Deb said, “Wait. I only have one day at the beach this year, and you’re telling me that there’s going to be an eclipse that day?”
I laughed, but pretty soon, I was back to tossing and turning at night wondering, “Should we go? Should we stay?” and imagining that one answer was right and the other wrong. Finally, my husband and I decided to stay. I am a good person, but I am a bad, bad person in traffic. We gathered as a family and made the moment as significant as we could, right where we were. We rented a canoe and floated out into the middle of the town reservoir, wearing the flimsy cardboard and plastic eclipse glasses for protection to watch 93% of a total solar eclipse. It may not have been an “A+” –the remarkable 100% experience– but it was a pretty great “A.”
While my husband, the scientist, explained the physics of an eclipse, I couldn’t help myself. I made everyone hold hands and say a few gratitudes. I said, “Thank you for the wisdom revealed in darkness. We have learned so much this past year when things were really dark.” When the temperature on the water dropped and the world looked gray, we took turns saying, “We imagine a world that is peaceful, a world that is inclusive, a world that is healthy.” The moon shadow passed by, the temperature warmed again, and the black and white world regained its technicolor hues. It felt good to turn the moment into a powerful mantra for peace.
Meanwhile, our daughter had her first day at school and came home, buoyant.
“How’s middle school?” I asked.
“It’s not as bad as I thought! I like moving from class to class. It makes the day go by so much quicker!”
Our children are fully capable of handling hard transitions. So am I. I just have to trust that there is no perfect school for our daughter, and that the perfect way to face an uncertain future is, well, imperfectly.
I always thought of an eclipse as a “blocking out” of the sun. But the moon shadow just hides the sun for a moment, in a celestial game of “peek-a-boo.” Similarly, dark times are often shorter than we think. It helps me to remember that the sun doesn’t leave us in an eclipse. It stays right where it belongs. It’s the darkness that comes and goes, a transition that lasts for roughly three minutes.
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