My epic quest to find solar eclipse glasses

LIFE SELF-ECLIPSE-GLASSES MCT
Not all solar eclipse viewing glasses are safe, NASA warns ahead of the event Monday.

I have loved everything heavenly for as long as I can remember. When I was a little girl, and a school assignment was to look at the winter constellations, I could not wait to run home in the dark from Hebrew School. Even before dinner, I stood outside in the cold with my father, gazing up with a kiddie telescope. My friends make fun of me because I can watch the Weather Channel 24/7 and never get bored. My daughter is annoyed when I tell her to take a raincoat and umbrella to work but texts me when her office wants to know what the weather is calling for. In grief, I have looked up at billowy cloud formations, imagining a dead friend or loved one gracefully perched, waving down at me.

I just can’t help but acknowledge my crazy love attachment to the skies and universe, so when I heard about viewing the coming total solar eclipse, I went into ecstasy mode. Keep in mind that eclipses are not uncommon, but one traveling across the United States hasn’t happened in 99 years. The next total solar eclipse will be in April 2024, but it will be viewable from only a few states (including Pennsylvania, but only around Erie). So this was one for the books. I had to find eclipse glasses because, like so many, I have been voluntarily brainwashed by scientists and my friends in the media into thinking I might be one of the only people during this large U.S. crossover to miss the live action if I cannot view it safely.

COMING MONDAY: Derrick Pitts, the Franklin Institute’s chief astronomer, will take your solar eclipse questions live on Philly.com’s Facebook page at 3 p.m., just after the eclipse’s peak in Philadelphia.

Finding these glasses was now my job, and I was a woman on a mission.

Apparently, I was a latecomer. I didn’t think it would be difficult to round up a pair or two of solar eclipse glasses from, I don’t know, somewhere or somebody. Don’t people keep these things lying in their kitchen junk drawers? But finding these solar eclipse glasses was almost as hard as trying to get pregnant 27 years ago. And the fears that have been instilled by the media and medical professionals have helped fuel worries about how viewing a solar eclipse can be cataclysmic without proper preparedness. Do I not have enough anxiety in my everyday life to worry about? Now, I have to add the fear of burned-out retinas without NASA-approved and -certified eyewear. I started to become so paranoid about these warnings  I was thinking, if and when I find these glasses, I might wear them over my own sunglasses for extra protection. And if I could still see, I’d put an added schmear of Aquaphor on my corneas. Couldn’t hurt.

I googled where to buy scientifically approved and manufacturer-certified solar eclipse glasses, and all of the stores and websites that came up seemed to scream, “Us! Come here! We’ve got them!” like they actually had them in stock. I put a list of stores and manufacturers on my phone and off I went. I seemed to be in the car for days, calling and driving, driving and calling. I attacked Lowe’s, Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and even Bed, Bath & Beyond. Solar eclipse glasses could be considered beyond, right? No dice.

Camera icon Courtesy of Arlene W. Leib
Arlene W. Leib finally found her eclipse glasses

At the same time, I posted my search on Facebook. If you can’t find something you need on Facebook, it’s likely you’ll never find it. Soon, I heard from friends, family, and complete strangers from near and far about these glasses, chiming in on what they knew, where to go, where not to go, and even volunteering to help me in my epic quest. Even my cousin’s newly found biological son, whom I had met only 10 days before, inquired for me at the Franklin Institute Gift Shop. A Match.com blind date who works at my neighborhood library told me our branch was out of glasses but to check some others. A girlfriend said she bought her entire family glasses at the Camera Shop, so I sat in the parking lot the next morning waiting for them to slide open the metal grate. Still no glasses. On a tip from a high school friend, I went to his synagogue listserv. I don’t even go there.

The bad news was there were no glasses to be had. I was starting to feel concerned that I was going to be that sad person watching the solar eclipse live streaming on TV when I decided to call my optical store. They had ordered 50 pairs. Using my “I’m your longtime customer” card, I asked to please reserve two pairs. I made him promise and pinkie-swear that as soon as they arrived, someone would call me, because you know the mail. I worried. There was a total solar eclipse at stake.

Then, at midnight before I powered down my phone, I saw a Facebook friend’s post asking whether anyone still needed glasses. Breaking into a sweat and in fear of a public rampage, I sent a private message, asking whether he still had any left.  He said yes, and I was delirious with relief. I called my millennial daughter at work and happily announced, “I got my solar eclipse glasses!” and she said without missing a beat, “And mine, too?” I drove by her office and dropped off her pair, and we took a selfie with our glasses on, just as we did after we voted for Hillary, and when we got mother-daughter tattoos when she went into college and I was turning 60. I posted the selfie on Instagram but was forbidden to put it anywhere else. No good deed goes unpunished. After that Instagram post, I heard from a few friends who asked where they could get some glasses, too.

This eclipse thing is contagious.

My optician called when I arrived home and said the glasses were in, with 100 more arriving the next day. Come and get them. So I will now have two more pairs, and by the end of the day, I heard from an old boyfriend from the 1980s who saw my Facebook post and said he had some glasses, and I continue to receive a flurry of emails with leads and hot tips.

So why was I so worried? As it ends up, I’ll have enough glasses that I can even give some away. I’m putting them in a safe place for the next one in 2024. And it won’t be in a junk drawer.


Arlene W. Leib, who lives in Lafayette Hill, is a writer and owner of LookPR.