A new telling of an old story…
I have always loved stormy weather. As a little girl I would run outside and stand under the eaves at the first sign of rain, sticking a hand or foot out into the downpour despite my mother’s strict order to stay sheltered. The sound of wind in the trees exhilarated me as I lay in bed at night, thinking about how this ancient wind blew through long prairie grasses a hundred years before, whispering to a little girl like me, tucked up in bed in a log cabin, or even in an Indian’s warm tipi or wigwam. As a teenager, I would run down and grab my bike and ride through the rain, head bowed but heart soaring as I flew through morning raindrops.
Winter storms have a special place in my heart. I remember when I was a freshman in college, holding my best friend’s mittened hand as we walked through a world of dancing white flakes for hours late one December night, watching shadow plays behind closed window shades and imagining the world of light and warmth within.
Storms feed something wild within me, reminding me of the fragile nature of life as well as its beautiful tenacity.
This particular storm had been brewing for weeks. There had been no rain for months and the small mountain village in which we lived was covered in dust, the dirt dry and cracked. Every afternoon a hushed expectancy filled the air, as clouds gathered over the old volcano and dirt devils dipped their fingers tentatively to the ground once, twice, before grabbing hold and spinning across the land like insane dervishes. We would watch them in awed silence, uneasy with the raw, mindless power they exhibited, yet amazed by the beauty of a thousand plastic bags, candy wrappers, and bits of miscellaneous refuse whirled in a tower that reached from land to sky.
But no matter how hard the wind blew and the dirt danced, the rain refused to fall.
This was a time of waiting. Back home in America my sister Patty was losing a battle with cancer and I, like the colored scraps of paper in the dirt devils, had no control or ability to put on the brakes, to cushion the fall that I knew was coming when the ride eventually ground to a stop. My husband was working long hours in the city, his mind and, I feared, his heart occupied elsewhere. I wrote letter after letter to my sister, with no response, no answering note, no call or sign that they ever reached her. I couldn’t call, and emails were never opened, never replied to. The rest of my family was angry that I didn’t come home, but I simply could not. There was no way it was possible. So I was cut off, tossing words into the air with my eyes closed, hoping that some of them, at least, would eventually find home.
The day was sunny and bright, not a breath of wind or a sigh of rain. The email came from my brother, saying that Patty had passed away the night before. I knew it was coming, but I didn’t know how to feel. I simply felt numb, like my whole body had been injected with a large dose of Novacain. My husband was gone, and I didn’t know how to tell the children myself. I grabbed the basket of freshly washed laundry and started up to the roof to hang it, hoping that just this once my neighbors would stay behind closed doors.
As I walked up the cement steps, my oldest son called after me, telling me that they had prayed the prayer for rain at the masjid before he’d come home. It didn’t really register at that time, it was if my heart and mind had been wrapped up in cotton, and nothing came through but that it was muffled and distorted so as to be almost meaningless. I pushed open the metal door at the top of the stairs and stepped out, only to be met by a breath of…rain.
I set down my basket and turned my face to the skies as the rain fell, first gently, caressing, and I turned my face up to receive its grace. I dropped the basket of clothes and walked to the edge of the roof, and leaned over just as the rain began to come down in sheets. As I watched the dry earth soak up the blessed water, I felt a little knot inside of me loosen, and with the release of the rain from a sky that had held its breath for months, I allowed myself to mourn Patty’s death, and celebrate her life, and to be reminded of the beauty and order and greater wisdom that is always there, even when my eyes are closed, if I simply open my heart.