So­lar eclipse, baby hippo warm hearts in 2017

The Standard Journal - - LIFESTYLE - By Amy For­l­iti

MIN­NEAPO­LIS — It wasn’t all doom and gloom in 2017. The year was also filled with awein­spir­ing mo­ments that united us and warmed the heart.

The first to­tal so­lar eclipse to cross the U.S. in a cen­tury bought mil­lions to­gether in what some could only de­scribe as a pri­mal ex­pe­ri­ence. Thou­sands of im­mi­grants took the oath of cit­i­zen­ship, re­al­iz­ing their dreams of be­com­ing Amer­i­cans. And one adorable baby, Fiona the hip­popota­mus, be­came a story of sur­vival as she over­came the odds and tum­bled into the world’s heart.

The sto­ries pro­vided some light­hearted mo­ments amid a se­ries of deadly mass shoot­ings, ter­ror­ist at­tacks, hur­ri­canes, wild­fires, sex­ual ha­rass­ment scan­dals and other tragic news in 2017.

Here’s a look at a few of the mov­ing, uni­fy­ing and just plain fun mo­ments of 2017:

Yay, science!

It seems noth­ing brought Amer­i­cans to­gether more than the first to­tal so­lar eclipse to move across the U.S. in a cen­tury.

For one mo­ment in the mid­dle of an Au­gust day, mil­lions of peo­ple stopped what they were do­ing and gazed up­ward in won­der as the moon slipped over the sun — leav­ing a path of to­tal dark­ness that stretched from Ore­gon to South Carolina. Some eclipse watch­ers sang, some danced and some were moved to tears. Kids thought it was pure magic, and peo­ple trav­eled to re­mote sec­tions of the coun­try to get the best glimpse.

A study by the Univer­sity of Michi­gan, re­quested by NASA, es­ti­mated that 215 mil­lion Amer­i­can adults — or 88 per­cent of the coun­try’s adult pop­u­la­tion — viewed the eclipse ei­ther di­rectly or elec­tron­i­cally. That’s 104 mil­lion more than the 2017 Su­per Bowl.

“Peo­ple were re­ally just about na­ture, about this phe­nom­e­non that was hap­pen­ing,” said Mamta Pa­tel Na­garaja, who works on pub­lic en­gage­ment for NASA. “It didn’t mat­ter what color, creed, race, eco­nomic lad­der you were on, peo­ple just went out and en­joyed it.

“It tran­scended all the other things,” she said.

#TeamFiona

This lit­tle one wasn’t ex­pected to make it.

Fiona, a Nile hip­popota­mus, was just 29 pounds (13 kilo­grams) when she was born pre­ma­turely in Jan­uary. Af­ter early health scares, she’s now thriv­ing at more than 600 pounds (272 kilo­grams). This sassy girl has be­come a sym­bol of sur­vival — and the star at­trac­tion at the Cincin­nati Zoo & Botan­i­cal Gar­den.

Fiona has cap­ti­vated the masses and the Team Fiona craze isn’t slow­ing down. She stars in her own in­ter­net video se­ries. Tens of mil­lions have gone on­line to watch her take a bot­tle, splash in the pool or learn to run.

T- shirts bear her im­age. She’s the sub­ject of chil­dren’s books. An ice cream fla­vor and lo­cal brew are named in her honor. She gets so many cards and let­ters that she has her own mail bin. Grown men will lean over the pool in their suits and ties to get close to her, said zoo di­rec­tor Thane May­nard.

“It’s Fiona’s world, and we’re just liv­ing in it,” May­nard said.

In her early, most vul- ner­a­ble days, Fiona re­ceived let­ters and pic­tures from kids who were pre­emies them­selves, urg­ing her to stay strong. Af­ter nurses at Cincin­nati Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal Med­i­cal Cen­ter helped care for the hippo, the zoo sent Fiona-themed one­sies to the pre­emies there.

“We are work­ing with Fiona and her story to spread a num­ber of mes­sages — one is a mes­sage of not giv­ing up,” May­nard said.

In­spir­ing gen­eros­ity

Out of cash and out of gas on an in­ter­state exit ramp in Philadel­phia, Kate McClure found help from an un­likely source: a home­less man who told her to stay put, then used his last $20 to buy her gas.

Johnny Bob­bitt Jr.’s self­less­ness was not lost on McClure. She set up a GoFundMe page for t he mil­i­tary vet­eran and for­mer para­medic, and raised more than $400,000.

Now Bob­bitt has enough money to buy a home and his dream truck — a 1999 Ford Ranger. An at­tor­ney and fi­nan­cial ad­viser helped cre­ate a plan that will al­low him to col­lect a small monthly salary and have some money for re­tire­ment.

Bob­bitt has said he’s over­whelmed. He told “Good Morn­ing Amer­ica” he plans to pay the gen­eros­ity for­ward by donat­ing some of the money to or­ga­ni­za­tions that will help others.

“Every­body out there is fac­ing some kind of strug­gle, so if I can touch their life, the way mine was touched, (it’d be) an amaz­ing feel­ing,” he told “Good Morn­ing Amer­ica.”

‘Yes!’ Over roast chicken

From a sim­ple pro­posal over roast chicken to plans for a royal wed­ding, news that Prince Harry is en­gaged to Amer­i­can ac­tress Meghan Markle has many cheer­ing.

The story drew peo­ple in for many rea­sons. For one, it’s fun. The hap­pi­ness ex­uded by the cou­ple as they an­nounced their en­gage­ment was con­ta­gious, while de­tails of their courtship read like a fairy tale.

Harry, an army vet­eran who had a one- time bad- boy im­age but is now de­voted to wounded vet­er­ans and char­i­ta­ble causes, met Markle on a blind date. The prince later said that’s when he re­al­ized he needed to up his game to win her heart. They grew closer while camp­ing in Botswana, and now there is talk of start­ing a fam­ily.

But for some black women the en­gage­ment of­fered more than en­ter­tain­ment. It gave them a Cin­derella story they could pic­ture them­selves in. Markle, who is di­vorced, is bi-racial and will be the first woman of color in mod­ern his­tory to join the Bri­tish royal fam­ily.

“We all have this fan­tasy of be­ing swept off our feet by the prince. It’s val­i­da­tion that, of course, we can be princesses,” Essence Mag­a­zine Ed­i­tor-in-Chief Vanessa K. DeLuca said at the time.

Proud Amer­i­cans

Manny Ma­cias came to Amer­ica when he was just 3 months old. Three decades later, he be­came a cit­i­zen of the only place he’s called home.

“The U. S. has al­ways been home for me,” said Ma­cias. “Now it’s of­fi­cial.”

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment says more than 600,000 peo­ple be­came nat­u­ral­ized U.S. cit­i­zens in the first nine months of 2017.

The cer­e­monies can be huge mo­ments for those in­volved. Many times they are fam­ily af­fairs, com­plete with proud smiles or tears of joy as the new­est Amer­i­cans re­al­ize dreams that were years in the mak­ing. Many dress in their best and pose for pho­tos while clutch­ing Amer­i­can flags.

Ma­cias, 31, said he’s now glad to be able to vote, have more sta­bil­ity and live with­out fear of be­ing de­ported.

“It was im­por­tant to me to get the doc­u­men­ta­tion say­ing I was a cit­i­zen,” he said. “I did get a lit­tle emo­tional, be­cause fi­nally for me, the jour­ney was done.”

Born six weeks pre­ma­turely at 29 pounds and re­quir­ing non­stop crit­i­cal care by Cincin­nati zookeep­ers, Nile hip­popota­mus Fiona over­comes the odds to be­come a pop­u­lar story of sur­vival. TOP: Amer­i­cans all across the coun­try — like Jack Kve­nild, 5, of...

These 35 im­mi­grants from 23 coun­tries swear their oaths in Jack­son, Miss., in Septem­ber as some of the 603,825 peo­ple who be­came nat­u­ral­ized U.S. cit­i­zens in the first nine months of 2017. File, Ro­ge­lio V. So­lis / AP

File, Mead Gru­ver / AP

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