11/14 Flashback: We will see to ours

11/14 Flashback: We will see to ours November 14, 2022

From November 14, 2015, “Bring in the candles

So apparently there’s a dumb Internet rumor circulating that says we’re going to have “15 days of darkness in November.” Phil Plait heaves a sad sigh and debunks this nonsense, thereby providing a link that you can post as a reply to anyone spreading this silliness in your Facebook timeline.

As Plait notes, absolutely nothing about this rumor makes any sense. It seems like it was written on a dare, or maybe on a bet, by someone who had been challenged to come up with the most scientifically ignorant stew of malarkey they could then convince others to believe.

Astronomers from NASA have indicated that the world will remain in complete darkness starting on Sunday, November 15, 2015 at 3 a.m. and will end on Monday, November 30, 2015 at 4:15 p.m. According to officials, the “November Black Out” event will be caused by another astronomical event between Venus and Jupiter.

… The light from Venus will heat up the gases on Jupiter causing a reaction. The gaseous reaction will release an unprecedented amount of hydrogen into space. … The hydrogen making contact with the sun will cause a massive explosion on the sun’s surface. … The sun will then attempt to cease the explosions by emitting heat from its core. The heat will cause the Sun to dim to a bluish color. Once the sun reaches the bluish color, it will take approximately 14 days to restore its normal surface temperature, returning its normal color to the Red Giant.

Pretty much everything about that is wrong, backwards, or impossible, but since when has that ever kept an Internet rumor from going viral?

Anyway, as Phil Plait says, “No, We’re Not Going to Have 15 Days of Darkness in November.”

But what if we did? What if the sun doesn’t rise tomorrow morning? What if the skies were to suddenly, inexplicably grew dark at noon?

This has happened before. It happened on May 19, 1780 — New England’s Dark Day. On that day: “… an unusual darkening of the day sky was observed over the New England states and parts of Canada. … The darkness was so complete that candles were required from noon on. It did not disperse until the middle of the next night.”

Portrait of Abraham Davenport by Ralph Earl, 1788 (via Wikipedia).

We now think that strange event was due to cloudy, foggy weather combined with smoke from a huge forest fire then burning in Ontario. But no one experiencing the eerie daytime darkness throughout most of New England that day had any way of knowing about that fire hundreds of miles away. They knew it wasn’t an eclipse, but they couldn’t know what was happening.

Many people, therefore, decided that they were witnessing the end of the world. To be fair, given what they were experiencing and how little access they had to any possible explanation, this was not an entirely unreasonable guess.

The best response to this unexplained event and the fears it invited came from Abraham Davenport, who was then a member of Connecticut’s state legislature. When the sun failed and darkness came at noon, signaling, perhaps, the Day of Judgment, some called for an emergency adjournment to the legislature’s session.

“I am against adjournment,” Davenport said. “The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought.”

John Greenleaf Whittier rephrased that slightly in his poem “Abraham Davenport“: “Let God do His work, we will see to ours. / Bring in the candles.”

This is, I think, excellent eschatology. That’s the fancy word for the branch of theology that deals with “last things” or “end things” — a category that includes not just End Times and the end of the world, but also death (i.e., the end of the world for each of us, inevitably).

Davenport’s maxim applies in either case — whether we’re talking about the End of the World or just the end of our time in the world. That end is either fast approaching or it is not. If it is not, then keep working. If it is, then keep working.

And if it starts to get dark, light some candles. “Simple duty hath no place for fear.”

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