On an August afternoon in the Blue Ridge Mountains the late afternoon rain grays out the trees and streaks my vision with vertical lines. In the distance I can hear a low rumble, but this is no storm, but a gentle, constant rain. When I lived in the desert many years ago, this was called a “she-rain.”
It has been muggy, with air so thick you can feel it smear on your skin, but the rain clears it out and leaves a fresh smell of green in my nostrils. I step out the front door to soak in the feel of it all.
I look out, up and down the street and see the trees shiver as the drops tag the leaves and comes over me a distinct and particular emotion. I don’t want this feeling to stop, but rather I wish to drink it in and let it swirl through my body. It is not an easy emotion to describe; words are not sufficient. But it is a sense that the world is larger than I am and runs on a pattern and scale that I am only an observer of. There is comfort in that.
Weather carries emotion. We don’t always remember that perhaps because sometimes the emotion is frustration or disappointment, as when you can’t go our in a snowstorm, or fear when it looks like a tornado might be brewing. But the moving air is an agent and cause, the sky and its clouds a ripe metaphor for our interior lives.
Weather is a ground upon which our lives are painted, always there under the surface. A sunny day can make us happier — unless you live in the desert when after two months of continuous sun, you get rather antsy and wish for even just a little reprieve.
I remember once visiting Washington D.C., covering an exhibit at the National Gallery for the newspaper. I was put up in a hotel near Georgetown and in the afternoon a rainshower blew up. I could see it from my room window. I went out the revolving door and a doorman offered me an umbrella. I refused, looking straight up at the sky and letting the drops pelt my face. He looked at me like I was nutty.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “I live in Arizona. I haven’t seen rain for three months. I love this. I love getting wet.”
I remember when I was a schoolkid and it would snow in the New Jersey winter. The snow would be as deep as my belly and I went out into it and dug a cave in the accumulation and pulled away snow from around my hole, making an ersatz igloo. The snow was ecstatic, and not merely the snow, but my breath clouding the air in front of me, the numbness in my fingers and the cracking in my nose.
When I was living at the beach in Virginia, I once drove down to the water during a nor’easter, with the wind blowing at 40 or 50 miles per hour. The car faced directly into the wind and it bounced violently so that I thought I would go airborne. I couldn’t help but think of an aircraft carrier heading into the wind so the planes could take off with a short run.
Which reminds me of going airborne in a tent. We were camping in Shamrock, Texas, when an evening thunderstorm hit. A tornado had passed through the previous day and we were worried about another. As the rain came down in multiple Niagaras, the wind tore through and, first the tent began to float on the flood, and then began to rise around us. We had to abandon ship and head to the campground office for safety. As I got out, the tent pulled loose from its stakes and I grabbed it by the frame and it flew over my head like a kite. I held on, thinking I might begin flying myself, but managed to pull it down and flatten it and drag the rags with me to the building, where we — and all the other campers — waited out the storm.
But back to today’s rain, gentle and quiet, a hiss on the road and paradiddle on the leaves. It is the middle of a pandemic and we have been sequestered in the house for months. To stand on the stoop and feel the rain and enjoy the welling of emotion is a treat.
It reminds me again that the feeling of emotion is what makes us human. We may be rational beings (at least that’s the argument — I’m not so sure that isn’t wishful thinking), but it is emotion that reminds us we are alive. A computer can think, but I have no evidence that it can stand on a doorstep and enjoy, absolutely enjoy, the rain. And enjoy it to the extent that it warrants the name of joy.
I am 72 years old, and I face the absolute certainty that whatever life I have remaining will be a mere fraction of what I have already lived. The end is within sight, be it even 20 years off. And I feel my existence on this planet more sharply than ever. I am here; I am alive; I take in my breath and let it out again, and with each inhalation comes the smell of the rain-filled air.
There is much suffering in the world, and I have had a small share of it, but when I look at the pale green of the maple tree in the front yard, contrast lowered with the obscuring rainfall, I recognize that even with the pain and misery, there is still beauty — an afflatus that fills my frame and almost brings tears, tears of awareness. Of being alive. Of feeling my fingers and toes wiggle.
Let it rain.