When my children were younger, they often asked, “Daddy, tell us a story of when you were a little kid.” Here’s one I wish I had told more often.
When I was twelve years old, my grandparents took me to see a total eclipse of the sun (map here). It was a pretty big deal. Not only was there going to be an eclipse, but a rocket would be launched to study it. All this was to take place in the neighboring state of Delaware, so off we went.
A large crowd had gathered to see eclipse and rocket. The authorities gave everyone a small piece of dark plastic framed in white cardboard through which we could see the eclipse without being struck blind. (The danger of looking at the eclipse without eye protection was firmly impressed on me!)
Being a 12-year-old boy who grew up during the decade that saw the first man walk on the moon, I was just as interested in the rocket as in the eclipse. What’s more, I knew that this was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and I was determined to capture the rocket and the eclipse on film.
I had my Kodak Instamatic and a plan. When the eclipse started, I would first wait for the rocket to launch, and get a picture of it. Second, I would put the plastic shield over my camera and photograph the eclipse. (If the shield was necessary for my eyes, it must be necessary for the camera, too, right?) Finally, I would look through the shield myself. My plan ensured that I would capture everything on film so I could enjoy it forever, as well as see the eclipse in person.
A long and agitated wait…
The sky darkened and I prepared my camera.
Everyone was looking through their plastic shields, but not me! I didn’t want to miss that rocket! I knew it would only be streaking skyward for a few seconds, so I kept my finger on the button of my camera and did not allow myself to be distracted by anything else.
It was growing darker by the second, but still no rocket. Evidently that rocket was not going up until the eclipse was total, but I continued to wait anxiously.
Finally, the rocket launched. Snap! I got my picture. The eclipse was already a little more than half-way over, and I still had parts two and three of my plan ahead of me.
When you’re an excited, 12-year-old boy under time pressure at the event of a lifetime, it’s surprising how long it can take to position a one-inch-square piece of plastic in front of the tiny lens of a cheap camera and take a picture. Especially when you’re not sure just where to point your camera because said piece of plastic is supposed to be covering your eye as well as the camera. And especially when it’s hard to hold the plastic perfectly over the lens as you move the camera into its uncertain position. And most especially when you’re only going to get one chance.
After much fumbling around, I finally took what I thought might be a picture of the eclipse.
The eclipse had already been at its midpoint when the rocket had launched. By the time I got my picture of the eclipse, it was nearly over. When I finally put the camera down and looked through the plastic myself, it was over.
I had missed it!!
The weeping and gnashing of teeth that shall arise from people who have missed their chance to go to heaven will have nothing on the wailing that came from the 12-year-old boy who missed that eclipse. Theirs will supposedly be because they had been too focused on passing pleasures while neglecting their futures; mine was the opposite: I had been so focused on photographs for the future that I had missed the present.
When my pictures came back from the developer, the rocket was indistinct and the eclipse didn’t look like much at all. I had prepared and sacrificed for … nothing.
I don’t even remember when I threw the photos away.
Many people think that unless life goes on forever, it has no purpose and there’s no reason to enjoy it. Try telling that to a 12-year-old boy who missed the present because he was so obsessed with a future that never came.
After the eclipse, my grandfather told me that he had stolen a quick look at the sun with his naked eye.
He had not gone blind.