As early afternoon dawned in Columbus Circle, workers from CNN, Tishman Speyer and other nearby offices filed out of their buildings to crowd around the Circle with the intention to do something people don’t do much these days – look up.
Over one hundred people gathered in hopes of catching the eclipse at its maximum exposure at 2:44 p.m, when the black orb around the sun darkened to its deepest black, and viewers could see the glowing golden sun against a black sky.
Photographers and journalists found high lookout points, or made their way through the crowd. Anxious observers stood with Iphones ready and with paper and plastic glasses in hand. They huddled around one another, passing the glasses back and forth, along with pinhole cameras made of Fedex boxes, Kashi, and beer boxes.
The first person to invite me to see the eclipse held two cereal boxes, a Lucky Charms and a Frosted Flakes box, and created a double display of the sun’s sliver, projected as a light white carve out against the cardboard. She stood with her back to the sun, and adjusted her stance to catch the sun inside the box and then let me peak in. It was a simple and striking small image of a slice of the sun. Had I not known better, I would have thought it was the moon.
Every person I asked about their solar eclipse experience, and if they could see anything, offered me their glasses. Sometimes the sun was behind a cloud, and people waited for it to pass, glasses in hand ready to share with me at the right moment. When the sun peaked out again, the glasses circulated even more freely.
Once you caught a glimpse, you wanted to share it.
Looking up through the glasses, the sun was a bright red yellow and the sky was black behind it. Though NYC did not fall in the pathway of the total eclipse, the sliver was stunning.
One woman had a DSRL camera with a protective solar filter and a telephoto lens sitting on a tripod. It was not a dramatically long telephoto lens, and yet she was able to record a video of the darkening of the sky around the sun, and its sliver taking shape. She wound forward her recording to show me an amazing video of the making of the eclipse.
After reading so many articles of how the eclipse could melt your camera, and permanently damage your eyes, and watching my Facebook feed clutter with friends asking for sold-out glasses, I expected a more dramatic and competitive event.
But none of that mattered in the moment. Whoever happened to share your air space when you looked up to see the eclipse for the first time shared their experience with you.
Even in one of the most competitive cities in the country, and in the world, there was no exclusivity with the eclipse. Unlike in the stores to purchase the glasses, there was no risk or threat to your identity based on your ability to snag a pair.
Either you saw it or you didn’t. But everyone was there to see it, and there was no reason anyone wouldn’t. It was not a zero sum game. And that’s at the heart of renewables.
It was an event where viewers totally understood that this was a shared resource, and a shared phenomenon for all.
For most people this was a new experience, so onlookers were chatty. Everyone wanted to know if they were missing something, if they had bogus glasses, or if a cloud or building was blocking the view. It encouraged friendliness, festivity and community.
The sliver itself was impressive. But after all, how long can you stare at the sun for? And by yourself? That’s no fun.
I showed up with only a camera (save solar protective lens), tripod and recorder, without glasses, and I still experienced it fully.
And this sharing experience wasn’t unique to me.
Amanda of Bike Rent NYC, a local bike rental company stationed just outside of the Circle, tried to buy glasses on the street when a passerby offered two pairs to her and a friend, saying he’d seen it already, with instructions to use them and pass them around.
I saw people share their pinhole boxes with friends and groups of strangers- anyone who asked.
Stories spread of how viewers had made their pinhole cameras and what they imagined the event to be.
The crowd buzzed. “Did you see it?! What do you think?”
People flowed in and out of the Circle because it was not just a couple minutes of full eclipse; it was a partial eclipse, and the view fluctuated with cloud cover.
Viewers slipped their iPhones behind the glasses. Groups of friends took selfies. Rows formed of people in funny glasses with titled heads. I thought of countries and cultures that actually celebrate and enjoy festivals of the sun, and how right in front of me it was working its magic, and bringing people together.
The sun, in its rare form, brought out the humanity within us all. Everyone was humbled by the astrological, out of this earth event. And with sun, just like other renewable energy sources, there are enough rays to go around.