Published: Aug. 17, 2017

Kent WillmannBy Kent Willmann

Perhaps the Great American Eclipse can save us from the deep divisions and distrust plaguing 2017.

Mark Twain claims that history does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes.   Not unlike 2017, the year 1968 was traumatic by any measure.   In Vietnam, the Tet Offensive and Mi Lai massacre both occurred in ’68.   At home, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.   There were riots in European cities and at the Democratic National Convention anti-war demonstrators were brutalized by police.  Sports were not immune as the ’68 Olympics featured the famous black power protests.  Our military was tested when the USS Pueblo was captured by North Korea and one of our nuclear subs sank.  There were many more disheartening events.    

But, 1968 ended with one of the most beautiful and impactful photos ever —Earthrise as seen from the moon by the Apollo 8 mission.   You know, one of the first big blue marble photos.  The photo is on Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential photos of all time.  Science provided us with an image of ourselves that has been burned into our collective memory. You will remember that this was the first time we had men fly to the moon.  The photo was accompanied later in the mission by a live TV event broadcast across the world on Christmas Eve during which the astronauts read part of the Genesis creation story from the space capsule in lunar orbit.  Religion and science were in remarkable harmony at the end of a momentous year.  The effect of Apollo 8 can be summed up by a telegram from a stranger, received by Astronaut Frank Borman after the mission, that simply stated, "Thank you Apollo 8. You saved 1968.”

All of our problems didn’t magically go away in those special lunar moments.   In fact many of the same problems are still with us today and seem to be oddly rhyming with 1968 — racism, riots, North Korean threats, sports protests, and deep divisions in society.   But in that one photo we did see ourselves in a different way.   We saw ourselves as common inhabitants of a small blue orb.   Earth day was started not long after the photo was taken.   

Maybe, just maybe, the eclipse on Monday can do something similar.  Mark Twain himself used an eclipse to save a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court.  Those who have witnessed a total eclipse often report a spiritual experience.   Even a partial eclipse produces wonder and awe.   (Check out the shadows cast from tree leaves to see hundreds of eclipses.)  All kinds of people are making plans to be a part of the happening.  It promises to be the most posted event in social media history.  Maybe the eclipse can save us.  

Maybe we can unite around this grand cosmic event crossing our great county from coast to coast and for a few moments put away our differences. Maybe we can look at each other and see our disagreements as resolvable.  Maybe we can see ourselves as common inhabitants of a magical wonderful creation. Maybe The Great American Eclipse can save 2017 like Apollo 8 saved 1968.     

Kent Willmann taught social studies in St. Vrain for 32 years and is now a Senior Instructor in the CU Boulder School of Education.