The Man in the Moon Salutes Us With a Sun Hat: The Series on Awe


Did you view the annular eclipse?


Peter Jurik/AdobeStock


“Awe is more than an emotion; it is a way of understanding, insight into a meaning greater than ourselves.”

- Rabbi Abraham Heschel

While a war was going on in the Middle East, the Western part of the United States had an opportunity to view an annular eclipse of the sun. In a narrow band, curving from the Northwest through the heart of Texas, if clear enough conditions allowed, the height of the eclipse presented a few minutes of the moon blocking the sun except for an outer “ring of fire.”

San Antonio was on the path, and that is where my wife and I chased the eclipse, looking for clear enough skies. We found them on and off. At first the top of the sun, golden through the special glasses, was indented by the black moon, then it expanded until the “ring of fire” did occur. Then, after that peak, the moon seemed to briefly put on a sun hat as it disappeared. If you did not view it live, look for the images.

I am reluctant to share such a personal experience of awe for those who did not—or cannot—experience it, and a similar event will not happen in the United States until 2046. However, a full eclipse of the sun, with a possible “diamond” finish, will occur over various parts of the United States on April 8, 2024, weather permitting its viewing.

After the viewing, I was reminded of the hit song of Johnny Cash, “Ring of Fire,” written by his wife-to-be, June Carter, depicting her falling in love with him and danger:

“I fell into a burning ring of fire

Went down, down, down

And the flames went higher

And it burns, burns, burns,

The ring of fire . . .”

The danger of an eclipse is, of course, not to look at the sun while it is being eclipsed because it will damage our retinas and thereby eyesight. The danger of human relationships is that goodness can be eclipsed with destruction of our mental well-being.

Our patients generally come in with some psychological darkness, for which we try to bring some light with a therapeutic alliance, psychotherapies, and medications. All people must be aware of the dangers of potential darkness in the broader society of false leaders, projection of our anger, and cultish control of our thinking.

This annular eclipse also seemed to be a sort of parallel process or metaphor to life. Whether there really is an arc toward more justice, there is always an opportunity to move toward humanitarian dignity via compromise, compassion, and courtesy where these values can survive and thrive.

While the light and brightness of our lives can easily be eclipsed by all the darkness of life’s events, hope remains that the sunshine of our lives will return, even in the dire situation of the war in the Mideast. The relative lull in the Mideast war calls for our caring in any way we and our organizations can do so. That is part of our ethical responsibility to improve the mental health of our communities. Gore can be replaced with glory.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry, and is now in retirement and refirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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