Gazing Skyward, and Awaiting a Moment of Awe

The moment she saw the sun, something inside Julie McKelvey changed.

She was hanging from a rope on the side of Mt. Everest, four hours from the summit. The night was frozen, the slope some 60 degrees steep, the oxygen thin as she ascended to the highest point on earth. In the dark, she felt the fear and power of the mountain. She focused on exactly where to put her foot, her hand, alongside her fellow climbers.

Then, peripherally to her right, she saw an orange flash.

“I see this sunrise that I will never forget as long as I live,” she reflected. “The colors — it is just red, and then it is orange, and then it is yellow, and then the blue is coming. It was so incredibly spiritual for me, and beautiful.”

Ms. McKelvey, a mother and executive from central Pennsylvania, searched for words to capture the emotion of that moment. She felt so connected with something so much bigger than herself, something that she believed loved her. “The whole thing is very awe-ful. A-w-e,” she said, meaning full of awe.

On Monday, millions of people are hoping for their own sun-powered experience of awe. A total solar eclipse will sweep across North America, from Mazatlán up through Indiana to Newfoundland. More than 30 million people live in the path of totality, where for a few brief minutes the moon will entirely block out the sun, and darkness will swallow the light of day. A halo will glow white behind the moon, the sun’s corona.


Amid the rush to purchase eclipse glasses to protect one’s eyes and to check if clouds will disrupt the view, a deeper human experience is unfolding. The eclipse taps into a primal emotion, and evokes for many a sort of mystical moment and childlike wonder, as awareness of the celestial encompasses the earth. It is a present reminder to everyone, on the same day, that life can be magical.

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