The Difference Between Fear & Awe

I’ve recently done several things that frightened me. Knit a hat. Handled a rifle. Looked at the sun. Not a super exciting skydiving list, because I’m easily frightened. But worthwhile nonetheless.
Knitting is supposed to be soothing. Although I’ve been knitting for a decade, all I’ve ever made are scarves. A larger project stalled. Three D is beyond me. As my neighbor said, “I knit for my nerves.” But I so wanted to knit one of those cute beanie hats. Isabel got me a pattern and encouraged me. Two friends had already given me patterns, but that didn’t work. I need my hand held, because of…reduction. Knitting two together. Eep.
So, Rich and I were driving to Nebraska to see the eclipse. It’s a long dull drive. I was knitting, variegated gray wool, with the pattern propped up. “God damn fucking A son of a…” I’d say under my breath every so often, perplexed by my count. “Knitting is just so relaxing,” I told Rich, just to make him laugh. And finally, I did it! Stitched it up, and it fit! But not before I broke a sweat.
On to rifles. I want to improve as a shot. My ever helpful son-in-law offered me a safety lesson to start. Holding lots of unloaded rifles. Understanding how they work. Aiming. Pulling the trigger. Tim is a good teacher. “Cars are more dangerous than guns as a rule,” he said. “But you are familiar with cars, so they don’t seem scary.” (Actually they do seem scary, but I didn’t want to be a complete wimp). Tim also emphasized reality. “If you point an unloaded rifle at someone and they don’t back down they are probably a psychopath, and you are going to die anyway.” We laughed.
Humor is a good antidote to fear. So is competency. So is accurate perspective.
So what about staring at the sun? My mother was a very anxious person. She warned me many many times to
1. Not put a plastic bag over my head
2. Not climb into an abandoned refrigerator and close the door
3. Not look directly at the sun
Now, these things seem pretty unlikely. However, during the eclipse, you can look at the sun during totality. And I was worried even during the partial. I’d sneak a peak through welding goggles (courtesy of the ever useful Tim). At totality I clutched Rich, took off the goggles, and looked. The sun eclipsed by the moon hanging like an enormous jewel or magical eye in the heavens. It was extraordinary.
Later, I had to google “Have I gone blind looking at the eclipse?” Apparently I wasn’t alone.
Fear is uncomfortable, inhibiting, and sometimes just emotional illness. But awe is a special thing. It tells me I can appreciate the cosmos even in its remote vastness.

Eclipse of The Sun: Totality

there is no
for an eclipse
in Hebrew

although there are blessings
for a large crowd
first blossoms
a comet

putting on new clothes
the passage of time
a rainbow

Above us, the disk of the moon covers the sun. You can look right at it without dark glasses for 90 seconds. It burns like an eye in space. Birds fly into the trees. We can see Venus, much higher than usual, and a star or two-—Sirius? We’re at a rest stop in Lusk, Wyoming, having slept in Nebraska. At the edge of shortgrass prairie.
Driving back into town, we encounter our first and last eclipse traffic of the trip. It takes a half hour to go a mile. At Agate Fossil Beds National Monument there are sunflowers and prairie roses and stinging nettles and fossils from millions of years ago.
A colander and a vegetable steamer from home cast sharply defined shadows of dozens of partial eclipses.

All week I’d been having intense eclipse dreams:

and in the underworld of sleep
you can visit
all the shadows
of your different selves

an ancient white-haired woman
sits glowing
without hands
in a room
too bright
to look at directly

a dark man
torments some young crows
(in yet another dream)

I’ve been writing a 24 section poem on suminagashied index cards called “Woman, Sleeping” which is about the eclipse, statues and monuments, and more. I’ll post additionally when it is finished.