Even as an astrologer whose job is to spread the word about major celestial happenings, I was unprepared for the personal profundity I experienced at August's total solar eclipse.
A resident of Portland for barely two months, I opted to stay at home rather than risk braving the overhyped traffic-jam ('the worst in Oregon history!') to drive the thirty miles into the totality zone. I figured 99+% totality would be good enough, even as a close astrologer-colleague ribbed me for not wanting the full experience.
That morning, I'd risen at an ungodly hour to take a friend to the airport. I planned on staying awake until the later-morning's eclipse, but quickly fell asleep as soon as I got home. When I woke back up, I groggily dragged myself to the kitchen to make the daily pot of coffee (one of my jobs in our household's division of labor) and entered the mindless scroll of my Facebook feed.
A few minutes later, my husband Ricky alerted me to the coursing stream of coffee pouring out from the coffee-maker, spreading across the counter and dripping onto the floor, into the cabinets and drawers, seemingly soaking everything. For the first time in our new home, I'd created a giant mess, just moments before the eclipse effects would be starting.
I cannot explain quite why I reacted as I did (though, yes, I've sometimes been known to cry over spilt milk), but the next thing I knew, I was crumpled on the floor in a pile of frenzied sobs, bemoaning what a stupid and terrible person I was for never doing anything right and wailing for help from Ricky, repeating over and over in a desperate shrill pitch, 'I don't know what to do! It's everywhere!' as if I'd never had to wipe up a spill before. I was irrationally hysterical.
As I retell it now, I'm obviously aware my meltdown wasn't about screwing up that morning's coffee. The underlying self-loathing which gushed forth from me had a deep, primitive source: the archaic remnants of a young boy's striving, a drive to be as unerringly responsible and high-performing as possible in all areas, to both impress those whose love I sought and appease their every worry about me, avoiding mistakes at any cost. A mistake is damning evidence of my not having thought something through sufficiently enough, of not having known better. Of having failed to anticipate the situation correctly. All those times I'd beaten up on myself for miscalculating, underpreparing, falling short of expectations they amassed into one teary, snot-dripping, histrionic discharge on the kitchen floor. Here I was, a man capable of accomplishing so much in the world, reduced to toddler-like emotivity, practically non-functional.
Bless his heart, Ricky dealt with me matter-of-factly. (Admittedly, it's not the first time he's had to handle me in a hysterical state.) Replying with calm to my repetitive wonderings about what I should do, he answered: 'Just clean up your mess, then move on.' I followed his simple instructions. I cleaned up the spilled coffee and made another pot. I acknowledged the intense emotional release, came down from the high, and regathered myself. There was an eclipse to watch.
Ricky, our dog JoJo, and I headed out to the front porch as the sky began to darken. It wasn't quite the same quality of lessening light one witnesses daily at dusk, though I'm not sure how to describe the difference without judgment words: eerie, untimely, expectant, still. Ricky and I kept taking turns looking through the special protective eclipse-viewing glasses our friend had brought us, tracking the sun's ever-shrinking crescent-sliver. The temperature in the summer air grew swiftly colder. I had to pop inside and grab a sweatshirt.
As the eclipse began to peak, I found myself dumbstruck by the wild waves of light materializing on the ground, up and down my street, like reflections you'd see dancing across a swimming-pool surface on a sunny day or the psychedelic wave-patterns your brain reveals under certain chemical influences, a reminder of how contingent on subjective conditions are our reality-perceptions. (This mysterious eclipse-effect is often referred to as 'shadow-snakes'.) I heard audible gasps and marvels from the neighbors on their porches. JoJo wore a look I'd never seen on him before (and which could only be described as a dog's version of what the serious fuck?!?), so I reassured him everything was okay.
Was it? Based on what I was experiencing, I understood for the first time why humans throughout history have interpreted total solar eclipses as a foreboding omena sign this world could be ending, now that the usual laws governing the behavior of its sunlight have been so spectacularly disrupted.
My world didn't quite end with that eclipse, but it will never be the same again. The change has been that swift and dramatic, a series of developments which began that very day and has yet to coalesce into anything resembling coherent conclusion.
How does a writer convey such drama when unable to provide narrative specifics? The story is not mine to tell, though I hold a starring role. The details are delicate, and only more so stacked up one atop the next, soaring to inconceivable scope as each comes to light but you'll have to trust me on that. I remain on the playing-field, still in the action, no distance or perspective, undulating feels like shadow-snakes I can't believe I'm seeing. Barely coming into view now, my daily life in the weeks and months to come will not look as I'd thought it would when I first arrived in Portland. What else should I have expected, though, as transiting Uranus and Jupiter continue to play hard and fast with my birthchart?
I can only describe to you my reactions, then, minus the supporting data they refer to:
-Overwhelmed by the far-reaching extent of the mess, panicky with uncertainty about how it could ever be made clean again.
-Fearful of confronting the demon, but knowing its grip will only tighten unless confronted. Taking a deep breath, and then doing it not just once (because once won't really cut it) but repeatedly, at a thoughtful measured pace, each next move only proving obvious in that loaded moment, lacking blueprints for a broader plan each round unveiling one more shadow-snake as revelation, one more pill to swallow.
-Ashamed for having been so close to such murk, never having seen the shape of truth within, and now to never unsee it.
-Worried and concerned for the others so close in (closer even than I); accountable to them for my timid avoidance, my willful prior uninvolvement.
-Aware of fledgling spurts of pride, in acting now to try to right the wrong, but anxious not to posture like some self-proclaiming hero here to save the world from evil.
-Gradually realizing stronger faith in not attaching to need-to-know outcomes: Make the principled choice at every crossroads, and the correct way opens up. Growing pains, like the aches in adolescence when my bones stretched out too fast.
-Grieving still, even while the greatest hazards (so I hope) shrink from rear-view-mirror sight.
and all against an apocalyptic backdrop of fires, quakes, storms, shootings, emboldened bigots, plutocratic rot, the nuclear threat, a distressed planet.
In this midst, I bid farewell to the dog of my dreamsmy sweetest JoJoas it always goes. He'd made it through his cancer treatments like a champ, albeit aged by the experience, and loved his quieter life in Portland these recent months. But you don't want to notice those subtle signs: the increasing difficulties getting up, the sneaking-away to strange secluded spots, the faint look of death in the eyes. Then one day, his back legs just stop working. The principled choice in the moment is clear, acting quickly enough so he never fully grasps his reality of paralysis. You thank the goddess for dignified endings. He was his same spirited self until the end.
I mourn JoJo, the flagrant silence of his absence so vast (though slightly less consuming every day), along with everything else that's come and gone. I'm not sure who I am now without him, but neither am I the writer, astrologer, business owner, friend, husband, or son I set out to be. This has become acutely apparent. Yet, I never get far in catering to pity or wistful yearning. My experience with JoJo was perfect, from start to finish, because I was obsessively aware of his mortalityand, consequently, appreciated my decade with him fully and completely. I am grateful for the gift of his love, the purest I may ever know. Just as JoJo lived then died, so too shall pass every ephemeral image I identify myself with. Each time, I will clean up what's left, then move on.
Here I sit at my computer, again, writing the best I can (or at least what I have for the world at the moment). I don't know how it'll land, where it leads, or what it says about me. I'm just grateful to be able to do this now, for us.
JoJo the Space Age Dog (2006-2017)