August: An America in Awe, An America in Pain

August brought us one of the most awesome and rare sights in nature— a total eclipse of the sun!

On Monday, August 21st, from approximately noon until 3 p.m., people in North America were able to see at least a partial eclipse, while the total eclipse passed through portions of 14 states.

Not since 1979 had the path of the moon so perfectly intersected with the path of the sun. People from all walks of life gathered together to watch this amazing celestial event. In a billion years or so, the moon will appear small enough that it won’t fully eclipse the sun, and the age of total eclipses will be over.

And so, on August 21st, I happily joined throngs of fellow earthlings to witness the partial eclipse here in Birmingham.

AugustIt was every little bit as amazing as I had hoped it would be. I can only imagine how scary it must have been centuries ago to see the life-giving sun swallowed up completely without warning and explanation.

Today, of course, we know that the sun is eclipsed when the moon happens to pass in front of it—and that it is a natural phenomena and not a sign of any deity at odds with its creation.

August a Month of Heroes and a Month of Pain

But August also brought us Charlottesville and the wrath of Hurricane Harvey.

The hatred I saw in Charlottesville, Virginia, which ultimately led to the death of Heather Heyer, is forever burned in my memory. The country that I call home is bitterly divided, and I am deeply concerned to have seen the ugly head of a racist monster show itself openly.

To see an angry mob marching with torches, on the university campus founded by Thomas Jefferson, was like adding insult to the injuries suffered during that weekend.

AugustThe hatred displayed on social media, and the lack of leadership in the days following Charlottesville taxed my belief in social discourse, human rationale, and my faith in humanity altogether.

Only a few days after the solar eclipse, Harvey’s 130-mph winds lashed the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. The pictures of flooded homes, people in distress, terrified children, and elderly residents stuck in rising waters were heartbreaking. But my spirits were lifted when I saw how America can come together to help with rescue efforts. Places of worship from all denominations opened their doors to house and feed those who made it to safety with nothing left but their bare lives. People, including the husband of a colleague, took their boats, packed up supplies, and left for Texas to help rescue complete strangers from their flooded homes. Some, like DACA recipient Alonso Guillen, died trying to rescue Harvey flood victims. He and many others showed what the American spirit is all about.

The fact that people were able to put their differences aside, that they showed empathy for their fellow countrymen, gave me hope, hope that we might be able to overcome what divides us, after all.

The monster storm and the solar eclipse also reminded me how helpless and small we humans really are. But we do have the capacity to give, to love, to help, and to reach out to one another. This is not just an ideal. It is what our world needs, desperately, everyday and unconditionally. I cannot and will not give up believing that we are all able to demonstrate compassion, love, and empathy. As Anne Frank once wrote: “… because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”

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