January 08, 2019 G. Scott Patterson

Preparedness Fail

Preparedness Fail

August 21, 2017 … the first time since 1979 that a total solar eclipse was visible in the United States.

In 1979, the previous US total solar eclipse, I was 13 years old and although I recall it being a topic of discussion in school, we were far enough away from it that I don’t recall it being a big deal. The path of totality was in the Pacific NW and Canada, nowhere near us in Charlotte, NC. The one before that, I was only 5 and didn’t care about such things.

But in 2017, I did care. In addition to being an amateur, wannabe astronomer/meteorologist, Greenwood, SC was directly in the path of totality. Greenwood, SC? Where’s that and who cares? My son, Bryan, attends Lander University which is in Greenwood, SC. As for where it is … it is in between Promised Land and Ninety-Six, SC (map). Hope that helps.

Several months prior, we had made plans to go. This would be perfect. Later, the news would tell of hundreds of hotel reservations that were cancelled so that they could re-rent the rooms at exorbitant rates. This happened to a California family who made their reservations a year in advance at a Franklin, NC Microtel. We would have no such problem – we would have a place to park, a place to set up … viewing the eclipse was going to be a breeze. We were going to have to make a 2:30 drive (and my wife was going to have to skip a work day at her recently acquired new job), but it was going to be worth it.

I was smart enough to look on line and order some eclipse viewing sunglasses for the whole family and some eclipse filter sheets for the cameras (and again, the price would sky-rocket as the date approached - score 1-point for me!). However, that was about the extent of my preparation.

I took with me four “cameras:” my digital camera (camera 1), my phone camera, my iPad camera, and my old, 35mm film SLR Fuji camera that I hadn’t used in years. It was kind of a last-minute thought, but the film counter still showed 20 or so exposures left on the roll (I realize that some of you are Googling, “film camera” because you have no idea what I am talking about). It uses actual film … that you have to take to Walmart or CVS or somewhere and have sent off to be developed, sometimes it takes a week or more before you see your printed pictures. It is the same technology Fred and Wilma Flinstone used (another Google opportunity for some of you). But my Fujica had a history of taking good pictures and I was familiar with it, albeit rusty. 

That morning we loaded up the car with my four cameras, two tri-pods (one I had gotten cheap at a garage sale), the eclipse glasses, a blanket, cooler, etc. – you get the idea. We arrived about 45 minutes before the eclipse was to begin, located our son who had scouted out a quite place on campus, away from the planned school activities. It was where several of the professors had also planned to view the eclipse, away from the maddening crowds.

We staked out our spot and I began to set things up … one of my tripods, the one I bought cheaply, was missing a critical part. Essentially, I only had one tripod. And I had not brought any mechanism to mount either my phone or my iPad. But I had planned to at least have my two cameras mounted on tripods, but now I couldn’t do that with my 35mm … but it didn’t really matter because …

I had NO FILM in my camera! I thought I did. The counter was in the middle, so I thought I had film in there, but when I got home and rewound the film and opened the back … nuttin!

To make matters worse, I had not practiced at all taking pictures of the sun with the special eclipse film needed to cover the lenses. I was out there on the Lander University lawn with tape and scissors trying to secure the film over the lens. I had no idea what I was doing.

Meanwhile, like “sands through the hourglass,” time ticked away … and the first “flickers” of eclipse shadows became visible.

As totality grew closer, I realized that I had no plan for how I was going to use my cameras. I knew I did not want to spend the short time during the total eclipse (a little more than a minute) looking through viewfinders; I wanted to enjoy it with my own eyes. 

So while the eclipse was happening, I was taking pics with one camera, switching to another, back again, clicking my old-fashioned film camera … and then my batteries died in my digital camera (my #1 camera). I had more, but there I was in the middle of the eclipse, changing batteries. I wanted to shout at the sky, “Can you pause that for a minute while I get ready?” but that was not going to work.

The total eclipse was AMAZING! Seeing the sun’s corona is indescribable. My pictures do not do any kind of justice to it.

When it was over, my wife and son started playing “piggy-back” and they were laughing and it was so cute … I had messed with the settings on my digital camera and iPad so much that the images were too dark, I just grabbed the film camera, quickly changed the settings and shot out the rest of the roll of film – or so I thought (I was almost excited about those as I was of eclipse!) Of course, I had no film in that camera and so I have no pictures of them goofing off. I could have just kicked myself!

Probably even worse than no film - and much higher on the "no-excuse" scale - was that I wasn't familiar enough with my digital camera to know how to change/manipulate the settings to get a better picture. I was just scrolling thru menus looking for stuff and buttons to change the aperture, exposure, etc. I did find the menu where you change those things, but I had no idea at all what I was doing. I had not read ahead; I had not practiced; I had not adequately prepared.

I can hear you now, “How could you be so dumb, so … ill-prepared?” (well, that’s a long list for another day).

The point? I guess if you want to travel to Ohio or somewhere in 2024 to see the next one, you can learn from my mistakes. But really, I told you this story because we can easily do the same thing with Jesus.

If you are reading this blog (and have made this far), there’s a pretty good chance you know who Jesus is and are one of His followers. You know that He hears and answers prayer; that He speaks to us through His Word; that Sunday worship, communion, hearing the Gospel preached, being in fellowship with other believers is critical to our spiritual health. But often times we just shrug them off.

But then an eclipse comes; a health crisis, a job loss, a tragedy, a loss, a life-changing, life-altering event. You can’t say, “Hey! Can you pause this for a minute while I get ready?” Life moves with a relentless pace; time does not wait. And in the middle of our eclipse, instead of knowing how to handle it, we’re fumbling with settings, trying to change the batteries, realizing we don’t even have film in our camera … simply put, we are not prepared.

And (allow me to “up the stakes” even more), those “sands” are running through our hourglass. One day, the last grain will drop; either we will die, or Jesus will return, but either way, we are going to face eternity, ready or not.

I know my skills as an eclipse photographer do not qualify me as an expert on preparedness. But when it comes to eternity, I suggest you listen to what John the Baptist had to say (Matthew 3:1-12), repent and be ready, because the Kingdom of Heaven is near.