About a Storm

About a Storm

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(2016)
When the weather cooperates with our plans, we hardly pay attention. But rogue, fierce weather, though it refuses to bend to the preferences of mere humans, loves us in a hard way. Any kind of storm—the weather kind or the life kind—demands honesty.

In a weather storm, we face our lack of control, our inability to direct the future, the puny limits of our strength, the uncertainty of our future. A life storm reminds us of what we value—the things we jump to protect and save. It strips away the flimsy and leaves in place only things rooted firmly.

A weather storm graciously reminds me of what is important before a life storm must. A weather storm disrupts the outside atmosphere around me, a life storm pounds against the raw, unprotected core of my mind and soul. A weather storm leaves evidence of its passing in the stripped, splintered limbs of trees. Life storms leave fresh scars in their wakes. And though the marks tell stories of growth and healing, I cringe at some memories.

But I can tell you all about a midnight weather storm. I can tell you how the flawless star-scattered sky is crowded out by a swelling band of dark clouds, and how the moonbeams dim and disappear as clouds dominate the entire expanse of sky. In minutes, the pristine night becomes a bundle of power and harm, muscles tense and jaw clenched, waiting to be released across the land.

Then I can tell you about lightning, about how it snakes across the entire canvas of space overhead, how it quickly flickers within a cloud, and how it crashes straight to earth. And, I can tell you about the smells that change with the wind. The humid smell of an approaching storm and the first small gust of rain that leaves steam rising off the hot, damp tarmac.

The atmosphere changes, sending mothers into labor, the elderly into rants about their joint pain, and emergency response radios into a frenzy. I haven’t had children, arthritis, or drunken accidents, but I can sense the changes in the air around me. Usually I feel awfully sentimental, and sometimes I just want to cry.

There is the suspense-filled gap when lightning flashes all ’round, but before the heavens overflow. Then a heavy raindrop hits my shoulder and rolls down my back. I shiver, wait and then wrinkle my nose as the downpour plasters my hair against my face. My shirt is damp then soaked. I pause, waiting for the exhilarating experience to turn uncomfortable. I pause, curiously wondering how long I can endure the discomfort before retreating to my dry car.

I can tell you about pelting rain, sheets of it visible in the yellow glow of street lights, and about the shudder in my chest as a bolt of electricity crashes nearby and the yellow lights go out with a static pop. The mall parking lot disappears the way a screen goes black when the power cord is pulled from a socket. In the few seconds before the sign over the entrance flickers back on, maybe ten seconds or so, the city is stone dark, the way nighttime is really supposed to be.

On roads, cars pull off as little tidal waves wash over the painted yellow lines that divide lanes. Is it safe to proceed? Is it worth the risk? Sometimes oncoming drivers, despite their best effort, can’t see the middle line, and they drift into my lane. Another flash and the road lights, casting yellow circles along my way, blink to darkness in perfect sync.

A storm holds little respect for dinner plans, date nights or dreams of the future. It is concerned only with now. Plans lose priority, and we reach for the things we love most, the things we want to protect. We are forced to think in an urgent way, weighing our values and desires against the wind swirling around our bodies.

During storms, our skin isn’t as thick as we thought. We must choose to risk or run, in the time it takes another bolt to drop from a corner of the sky and shake the ground. Begging for more time to make decisions is futile. It would only be drowned in millions of raindrops.

So goes almost every storm, the weather kind and the life kind. Sometimes I pull over for a moment and let the torrent pass; other times I hunker down, every sense hyperaware, and edge forward. I can tell you about turning into my driveway, and taking the breath I forgot to take since the mall parking lot first went dark. The relief, the memories and the awe for something more powerful than myself. I am reminded of my smallness.

In any storm, I remember what matters, what I can’t do, and what I must do. This is the gift of a midnight storm.