The lunar eclipse was nearly complete as we approached the church doors.
Dusky red in earth's shadow, the moon hung perfectly suspended above the meeting hall as if by command of the wedding party.
An oval spot on the moon's rim yet glowed brilliant white, while the rest of the moon composed a discreet circle, so that earth's companion on Nov. 8 at 8 p.m., resembled a ring supporting a large white stone amid lesser diamonds.
Longtime readers know I champion celestial events. Comets and meteor showers and satellites appear in this column from time to time along with a procession of constellations--Orion, Taurus, the Pleiades--especially this time of year.
Few such sights have been as spectacular as the eclipse of Saturday, Nov. 8, a brisk, cool night in which every ardent star and insistent city light found friendly passage through crystalline skies.
I've witnessed other eclipses almost as perfect. One wintry solstice I had occasion to drive southward from Wisconsin and for a couple of hundred miles viewed a lunar eclipse through my windshield. Another time, while driving home from Nashville, I stopped atop the Cumberland Plateau near Crossville and watched a silver dime of a moon as it slipped beneath some giant's inky thumb.
Celestial displays are chancy in East Tennessee where every stellar event risks usurpation by jealous clouds or high mountain ridges. Not so this one. Standing on my front porch before driving to the wedding, Jeanne and I had gazed upon the beginning of the world's largest projected image. That's what an eclipse is, more or less, a celestial movie. Think of the sun as the projector casting its beam from 93 million miles away. Think of the moon as a movie screen, a brilliant white immensity scarcely a quarter-million miles in the opposite direction. Between this projector and this screen the earth glides through, guided by laws of motion and chance, to throw its focused shadow upon the moon. When it happens, you actually see the curvature of the Earth. It's the only time most of us ever glimpse the grace and grandeur of our planet's sojourn through time and space.
Superimposed on the lunar circle, the larger circle of Earth's shadow nibbles away at first. That's when old tales come to mind of drummers and shaman healers furiously working their rituals--invoking cosmic forces to rescue the moon from darkness and despair, no doubt to the accompaniment of wild celebration at magic's consummation, when the moon emerges in glorious white.
Jeanne and I drove regretfully away from the eclipse, heading northwest, so that the cosmic event proceeded behind us. When we arrived at the church an hour later the eclipse was near total, as I say, so that only a brilliant snowy oval remained uncovered at that point on the rim of the moon not yet encroached upon by the rim of the Earth's shadow. It looked like nothing so much as images I've seen of the red planet Mars with its polar cap aglow, unless it would be that diamond ring I mentioned earlier.
Inside the church, I approached the busy mother of the bride and whispered, "The lunar eclipse was a nice touch. I bet that was expensive." She smiled broadly, as assembled guests moved into position for a different kind of convergence, a rendezvous more permanent than the one now total in the sky.
An hour later, outside the reception hall, we saw the moon reborn, a truly beautiful touch, planned or not, for a wedding that crowned a real-life romantic drama beyond the reach of this column. It's enough to say that for two luminous souls every eclipse hereafter will be a reminder of the night their private love was united in public ritual. I scribbled in a card I've somehow yet to mail, "Congratulations to a woman and a man together in a joining as glorious as the full moon coming out of eclipse."