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Daddy's Girl Chapter 2: Total Eclipse of the Heart

April 8, 2024 - Today, something rare and special happened. Today, there was a total eclipse of the sun. For the past several months, there has been a lot of hype about this event in our area. Coverage in our Cincinnati neighborhood was expected to be 99.7%, but areas further west, into Indiana, and north, near Cleveland and Kent, experienced 100% totality. Schools were called off and employees were given half days at work. The news warned that traffic would be heavy due to a lot of out-of-state travelers coming here, and a lot of locals traveling to surrounding areas to see the sun completely blotted out. The song "Da-Doo" from Little Shop of Horrors ran through my head all day. I sat outside with my husband, mother, daughter and some neighbors to watch (with certified protective glasses) as the moon moved its way across the sun. The eclipse began around 2:00 and lasted until shortly after 4:00 in the afternoon.

As we set up chairs and sat outside talking, I was filled with an excitement I hadn't felt in a long time. There was a party-like atmosphere to what would otherwise have been an ordinary Monday afternoon. Our cul-de-sac was buzzing with activity as neighbors stood on their driveways or sat on their lawns, eyes trained skyward. Refreshingly, no one was looking down at their phones! I was hyper-aware of my environment, to the way the light grew dim, almost hazy, like a storm was approaching, but the sky remained cloudless. There was a soft edge to everything and a stillness in the air. "I wonder how dark it will get?" My daughter mused as we glanced around at the crescent shadows of the sun that danced on the sidewalk in time to the gentle breeze. The temperature gradually dropped, like night was approaching.

We paused periodically in our conversation to gaze up at the sky through our glasses, watching as the dark circle of the moon slowly blocked out the brilliance of the sun. Eventually, our outdoor lights (that usually come on at dusk) switched on, and birdsong from the trees grew louder, as though the birds didn't know what was going on and were caught unprepared, eager to settle into their nests.

Around 3:00, the quality of light suddenly went from a pale indigo to a deep navy, the color of spilled ink. A muted, golden glow tinged the horizon we could see through the trees that surrounded our home. My daughter and I were on our feet, at first staring through the glasses at the tiny pinpoint of light that was the sun, then turning in circles, gazing breathlessly at our yard, blanketed in near-night in the middle of the day. Without looking directly at the sun, I could see in my peripheral vision that it was still shining, but its brilliance was contained, subdued, casting a smaller, more concentrated glow than usual . . . a halo of heavenly light. And in the sky, sparkling brightly and very visible at 3:00 in the afternoon, was the planet Venus. We were exhilarated and electrified, filled with a sense of awe. My mother laughed at us. "It's good to see you still have a childlike wonder in you," she said, and she was right. I was filled with wonder at the sheer magic of mother nature, of the universe, of the unknown . . . perhaps, even, of G_d.

It was in that moment that I remembered another time when I had felt like this. I had been much younger and was sitting beside my father, staring up at a vast dome that projected the night sky high over our heads. We were on one of our father-daughter dates, and this one would live in my memory long after the day had come and gone.

It was the 1980s, and my father and I were in the planetarium that used to be located at The Cincinnati Museum of Natural History and Planetarium, at the base of Mount Adams. Inside that wonderous building were so many treasures I remember from my childhood: The towering skeletons of long-extinct dinosaurs that paraded across the lobby, the statue of an indigenous Ohio hunter with a loincloth and spear that greeted visitors to the galleries, the giant stuffed polar bear with arms outstretched that stood safely behind glass, and of course, the dark, dank cave that thrilled me every time I visited with my family or on a school field trip. I'll always recall the sound of water dripping from the cool stone walls and the narrow passages that made you forget you were still inside. Outside the museum, a large woolly mammoth family stood near the building's entrance. That location is long since gone, but on that day in the 1980s, as the lights went down in the auditorium and we leaned back in our chairs, my father and I observed the heavens over our head. The constellations came to life. The Milky Way spread out like a blanket above us. That sense of exhilaration, of wonder, lit a spark in me that has continued to burn until this day. It ignited a curiosity about astronomy, science, and our place in the universe.

After our celestial show, my father and I went out for deep dish pizza. Sitting at a table at the local Uno's Pizzeria, my feet barely touching the floor, I chatted excitedly with my dad about what we had learned. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know what it was like to travel to space, how far we could go, if there was life on other planets, and if we traveled far enough, would we reach heaven? To me, the vastness of the universe was both magical and, at the same time, scary, and made me feel infinitesimal by comparison. Yet my wonder was immense, and these thoughts made me feel alive. This was one of the first conversations I remember having with my father about the mysteries and meaning of life. We would go on to have many more over the years.

Now, only a month since my father's passing, the same questions I had as a child have plagued me on a regular basis. While I no longer believe in heaven as an actual place, I do believe we "go on" in some way after we die, and that our souls continue to exist in some form. My brother recently reminded me that energy can neither be created nor destroyed, a law of science I find comforting. And when I close my eyes, I can still feel my dad's hand in my own. I can still hear his warm, gentle voice. I can still feel his presence. I find myself talking to him in the morning when I'm getting ready, or when I'm driving in the car during the day, or when I'm lying in bed at night. And I wonder, . . . where is he now? Because every fiber in me believes he is somewhere.

While we stared up at the sky and witnessed the miracle of the total eclipse on April 8, 2024, I wondered if perhaps he is there, in the stars, energy returned to nature, so far away, yet always with me.


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