Labels have been eclipsed

We journey to Lexington, South Carolina to see witness an eclipse.

My wife talks to a couple — two White women from Charlottesville, perhaps in their 60’s — they lament the terror that descended upon their peaceful, thoughtful town. A Jewish family lies on the grass next to us, the father discovering the beauty and mystery of childhood in the waning sun.

Telescopes in the parking lot near the nature center entrance track the sun. My daughter looks in wonder at red and orange orbs, under the gentle guidance of a woman astronomer. A nine-year old African American boy looks at sun spots in awe, peppering the astronomer with questions. She answers him thoughtfully. His mother says that he wants to be a scientist.

In this small pinpoint in the west of South Carolina — a small nature preserve called Saluda Shoals Park — people are speaking in Hindi, Spanish, and Italian, and Mandarin. Grandmothers the color of the 2pm night encourage their grandchildren to look up.

Young Brothers accentuate their designer athletic apparel with solar shades. The other astronomer gives an impromptu hands on talk about meteorites, looking on as the dark remnant of a star passes between white, tan, black, and brown hands. He gives talks to the schools around the state he says, for free, as a service because of his love of the universe.

As sky goes dark, the cicadas awake. My son is giddy with the excitement of being present in a singular communion with the eternal, absorbing the sublime colors of the solar halo and noting the presence of planets.

As the sun waxes, a father with his ‘fro and mother with dark straight hair and skin the color of sand walk past smiling taking their sleeping child home.

In that moment labels — the inadequate one-dimensional badges affixed to us used to define, oppress and limit — become like the shadows in the eclipsing sun. We become to each other human — familiar brothers, sisters — seeing each other in awe, gratitude, and wonder.

Books on a plane

Next week, the team I am on at Automattic is meeting up in Tel-Aviv to attend the NetSci X conference. There is so much to be excited about — the opportunity to spend 10 days with colleagues, the interesting talks on network theory and analysis, the opportunity to visit the holy sites of the Bahá’í faith and soak up the spiritual energy, the gift of spending days in some of humanity’s most ancient cities, and then the magic of the unexpected.

I am looking forward to experiencing and blogging about those adventures. I want to take time to discuss one of my favorite things to do on long plane rides — reading books that I have long had on my list and rarely get the chance to dive into.

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There is a Lonely Planet travel guide to Israel (maybe better for pre-travel reading? My colleague has hooked it up!), the memoir Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret who I’d enjoyed listening to on Fresh Air, Blood at the Root an analysis of one Georgia town’s painfully recent struggle with its history of racism, The Attention Merchants on the impacts of the behavioral advertising models that dominate the Internet, and Weapons of Math Destruction which I’d started but not finished. I have laid them out on the table tonight and thinking today about which one or two to take with me.

Usually it happens that a fellow traveler feels compelled to share something and I am all there to listen. On a journey back from Vancouver, a fellow traveller shared beautiful and haunting pictures she and her husband made of the botanical gardens around Vancouver.

I want to be open to all that can happen on this journey. But it is great to have books on the plane to share the ride.