The Sanctity of a Thunderstorm

For the first several years of my life, I didn’t experience many thunderstorms. I can distinctly remember one time in southern California that I heard the rumble: a single reverberation out of casual clouds that sent the neighborhood kids running for cover. A summer night in Arizona taught me the taste of electricity in the air as we watched flashes on the horizon. When a muggy Florida storm rained out family plans, instead of going to an amusement park I watched the torrential rain overwhelm the pool out back. Moving to the Midwest increased my opportunities for storm-watching – an interest that is not always shared, unsurprisingly, in a town once decimated by a tornado.  My love for thunderstorms grew on the front porch of Missouri.

When I mentioned for the umpteenth time the urge to run into a thunderstorm and never return, a friend replied, “I’m just waiting for you to come across in real life whatever storms represent for you.” You and me both. Thunderstorms possess a sanctity that is difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t felt the torrential downpour of the rain, been blinded by the night sky turned to noon, or felt the earth shake beneath them as bombs explode overhead. Such a storm is beautiful, but not pretty; it is an authority demanding attentive silence.

I’ve sat through many storms in silence, listening for something I can’t quite hear. Can a voice be “on the tip of your ear”, as words that are almost-but-not-quite accessible are said to be on the tip of your tongue? Something as ever-present and intangible as atmospheric pressure weighs on my soul, stirring a longing within. It crackles underneath my skin, and I’m surprised that lightning doesn’t burst from my fingertips. There’s no way this shell can sustain the internal force of the storm – and yet, here I am.

I can’t make out its voice, though I feel it raging. The winds whip up and pull on the invisible rope anchored to my chest, inviting me to join. Perhaps it is the storm’s way of calling me – or the fragment of storm within me – back to itself. Maybe the point is not hearing the voice now, but being reminded that I cannot rest, I cannot belong, until I do. I can’t stop chasing it, despite having received no promises that I’ll catch it anytime soon; I’m not sure who I would be without the chase. (And I’m not sure what I would write.)

This morning, thunder and lightning were my alarm clock. I am thankful that, in the midst of the global pandemic and social distancing, thunderstorms are not canceled, and I can focus my attention on the chase.

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