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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 26, 2001

One more reason to stand tall

By Mike Leidemann
Advertiser Staff Writer

Stand up tall. No slouching. There, see it? On the ground, right where it's supposed to be? No, of course, you don't.

That's because right now, at this very minute — 12:28 p.m. Saturday, May 26, 2001 — there's nothing there. Right where your shadow should be, there's a big empty spot.

Shadows are funny like that. By definition, there's not much to them to begin with. Shadows are just dark spots where illumination should be, signs of interruption in the flow of light. They have size and shape, but not much else. They grow and fade, but really there's nothing there.

Still we get accustomed to them; we walk side-by-side with them and take no notice. Life itself is but a walking shadow, Macbeth says, a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

So what are we to make of this very moment, right now, when there's no shadow there, nothing right next to you to see? The nothingness that is a shadow has disappeared. Just stand there and think about that for a moment.

The Bishop Museum calls this "Lahaina Noon," the twice-a-year-moment in the tropics when the sun is directly overhead. While you're standing up very straight, the sun is beating down on you just as straight. For a moment, you and the sun, 93 million miles away, are in perfect alignment. Nothing is out of whack. See nothing. Feel the Force, Luke.

This phenomenon occurs only in the tropics, and then only for two passing moments each year. That means Hawai'i is the only place on American soil where it can be experienced. A couple of years back the Bishop Museum sponsored a name-that-day contest; Lahaina Noon won, the museum folks say, because "lahaina" means "sun that is cruel."

Because the word can bring to mind Lahaina town, you can see why Maui tourist officials don't really play up this event. Still, maybe someone can market it: Shadowless Tours. Who says there's nothing new under the sun? Have a couple of umbrella drinks and lose your life partner. Only the No Shadow Knows.

Let's not get carried away, though. A solar eclipse is a really shadowy event. Like most other celestial events, Lahaina Noon is cool, but hardly earth-shaking. Better to lose the shadow and keep the substance. The Bible says our days on earth are as a shadow. Definitely better to keep your eye on the substance when you're dealing on that level.

Anyway, Lahaina Noon, like life itself, is fleeting. It will be gone in 60 seconds. (Never mind, for the moment, that Lahaina Noon occurred in Lahaina two days and four minutes ago). In Honolulu, it will be gone before most people notice it. Sure, it happens again in July, but I'll be on vacation in New Jersey.

In the end, Lahaina Noon is just a moment in time, only a little different from all the rest. For that alone, it's worth standing up straight.

Mike Leidemann's columns appear Thursdays and Saturdays in The Advertiser. He can be reached at 525-5460 or e-mail mleidemann@honoluluadvertiser.com.