Home Canadian News Josh Freed: Ain’t no sunshine: it’s an eclipse!

Josh Freed: Ain’t no sunshine: it’s an eclipse!

Josh Freed: Ain’t no sunshine: it’s an eclipse!

For millenniums, eclipses brought fear of the gods, now it’s fear of lawsuits. How else to explain why schools are sending pupils home instead of using Monday’s eclipse as a teaching moment?

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Welcome to Eclipse Fever, an age-old phenomenon that inspires awe, fear, excitement, curiosity and paranoia in school boards.

This is your once-in-a-lifetime chance to see a total eclipse in Montreal because the next one isn’t due here until 2106.

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That’s 84 years from now, so you aren’t likely to be around for it no matter how healthy that Mediterranean diet of yours is.

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No wonder half the people I know are out hunting for eclipse glasses, now as hard to find in Montreal stores as toilet paper during COVID.

I just ordered a $20 pair online scheduled to arrive Sunday. If they don’t arrive on time will I get my money back, or need to save them for the next eclipse?

If you don’t have glasses, eclipse gatherings are happening all over town Monday, like millennium gatherings.

Hundreds of thousands of glasses will be available everywhere from Parc Jean-Drapeau’s mass gathering to the Trottier Space Institute’s “Eclipse Fair” on the McGill campus.

Countless music sites are offering recommended songs to accompany your eclipse, from Ain’t No Sunshine to Dancing in the Dark and Here Comes the Sun.

Across North America, millions of eclipse-seekers are travelling long distances, responding to the phenomenon like weather-startled animals.

They’re expected to create giant traffic jams across the continent, as everyone types in the same direction request on Google Maps: “Find nearest total eclipse to me.”

Meanwhile, zoologists are eagerly waiting to see how animals react. Will they behave as reported in one eclipse account back in 1544, that claimed: “birds fell to the ground … or flew straight into houses,” while dogs either “barked or whimpered,” or “did not bark or whimper.”

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My own question for zoologists: Do any animal species need special glasses to protect them? I suspect a million cat-owners have already ordered eclipse glasses for Kitty.

After all, humans have always behaved strangely during eclipses. Many ancient peoples thought the sun was burning out and the world was ending, so it was time to sacrifice more sheep or humans.

The ancient Chinese apparently banged drums and yelled to chase off an invisible “dragon moon” god trying to devour the sun.

Some tribes shot flaming arrows at the sky hoping to rekindle the sun, which they proudly knew had worked when the sun came back out.

Some peoples even thought an eclipse was a good omen: The sun and moon were making love so it was a good time for child-making.

My favourite legendary ritual was that of the Batammaliba people of West Africa. They believed eclipses were a sign human anger and fighting were so bad they had affected the moon and sun.

To fix this, the Batammaliba ended all ongoing feuds after an eclipse. If we only followed their example, this eclipse could be a chance for much-needed world peace.

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Of course in today’s sophisticated scientific age we no longer have primitive fears of Sun and Moon Gods. We have fear of our new Health Gods.

In Quebec and elsewhere in Canada most students are staying home, or being sent home two hours or more before this awesome moment. School officials want them hidden from the sun, like cavemen who feared Armageddon was coming.

These students could be experiencing a once-in-a-life wonder, safely wearing eclipse glasses, supervised by professional educators helping them marvel at remarkable changes that have awed people for millenniums.

How the wind abruptly rises, the temperature plummets and the birds go silent. How the stars suddenly appear in broad daylight.

But many nervous school boards claim it’s utterly impossible to keep kids safely in school an extra half-hour to watch the eclipse’s totality around 3:27 p.m. — although they’ve known this eclipse was coming since the last one in 1932.

Instead, they’re sending them home on a weekday afternoon when many parents will still be at work. So countless kids will be home alone staring at their phones — and hopefully not at the sky without glasses.

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I know it takes organization to ensure 30 kids are looking out the window, in proper glasses, especially when many would rather stare at their phones. But is sending them home really safer, unless parents want it that way?

My guess is that it’s partly just safer for school board lawyers to have kids home alone, where schools aren’t responsible. For millenniums, eclipses brought fear of the gods, now it’s fear of lawsuits.

Everything in life has risk-versus-reward equations, whether kids are participating in injury-prone sports like hockey, skiing, biking and windsurfing or just driving in a family car.

But these risks rarely weigh up against a unique chance to see a world wonder. We already close schools for snow days — now we can add eclipse days.

Anyway, for those of you who can enjoy this magic moment, don’t miss it. The entire eclipse is supposed to last two hours and 22 minutes, so have your glasses ready.

If it lasts much longer, it might be wise to have some flaming arrows on hand, too.


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