The Importance of Authenticity: On the Eclipse, Tom Skilling, and Being Oneself

2017 Total Solar EclipseWe live in a world of Auto-Tune, Pollyannaish social media posts, and Z-list celebrities. A world that’s loaded with people looking the same, acting the same, and often thinking the same (lump me in there at times). Of reality TV- and social media-manufactured controversies and edginess. We crave authenticity, but we’re surrounded by cultural complicity. Most popular media is meant to be safe. To entertain slightly, to titillate mildly, to provide us with Brave New World soma that keeps us entertained, but not informed, in the post-truth era. (Some media also exists to stir us up—often in the absence of hard facts—but that’s a post for another time.)

Some of our broadcasters are good examples of this complicity and sameness. If you turn on many of your local news stations (I exclude our local PBS station and a few other broadcasters from this category), you’ll get the same rote reading of murder, mayhem, soda tax stories, trump-tweets, and water-skiing squirrels by anchors with their market-tested hair, body size, and delivery. Rarely (WGN morning news in Chicago excluded) will you get any glimmer of humanity (and real-world crankiness and honesty) or the essential energies that makes us different, feel alive, and feel that something is at stake.

And then came the full eclipse last Monday and uber-weatherman Tom Skilling’s moment of sheer humanity before the camera. As the sky darkened in southern Illinois Monday afternoon, he stopped being a reporter and became an everyman—or woman—caught up in the sheer beauty of day becoming night in a moment, a black circle where there was once blinding sunlight. In two-and-a-half minutes of totality, the temperature plunged, birds suddenly roosted, and Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury and the brightest stars became visible in what was once blue sky. Onlookers glimpsed the sun’s corona, the diamond ring effect, and Baily’s beads. A primal experience where the safe world we knew was flipped on its axis for a few minutes.

Skilling high-fived and hugged a surprised woman. “Look at that, wow!” he repeated. He cried. He emoted. He hugged more people. He was a human being caught up, marveling, and being humbled by a rare celestial moment, and it felt good to watch. It felt great to watch.

Tom Skilling is the antithesis of the typical broadcaster. I love that he loves meteorology so much. I love that he gushes about pneumonia fronts, cumulonimbus clouds, and the Enhanced-Fujita Scale. I love that he was so caught up in the moment that he risked jeers at his tears as he watched something beautiful and profound.

I wish I was more Skilling-like in touting my love of good writing, elegantly-placed commas, and almighty alliteration. Tears might be weird as I proclaim my love of writing, reading, and books (but maybe not), but being even more enthusiastic about something we care about deeply must be a good thing. We all need to be more like Skilling—so comfortable with ourselves in our nerdiness that we become free of the tedious sameness and safeness that many of us are immersed in daily. I’m not advocating a daily cry-fest, because that would become inauthentic in a matter of a few hard cries, but I hope that we can embrace the unexpected, the emotional, the strange when it feels right. Tom Skilling has mastered it. Why not the rest of us?

Copyright (text) Andrew Morkes; photo courtesy of Aubrey Gemignani, NASA

3 thoughts on “The Importance of Authenticity: On the Eclipse, Tom Skilling, and Being Oneself

  1. Incredibly well said. As someone who frequently has a more emotional response to a situation than I am comfortable with, I cannot control it so I try to embrace it. Skilling’s response to the eclipse was so authentic and genuine that I couldn’t help but be moved and I was already heading in that direction . More honest emotion, tho not easy for many, would be a step in the right path.


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