At the end of a writing day doing mostly not writing, I finally gave in and picked up a book. I wasn't too far into the Introduction when a word jumped out at me, and I thought about rain. The word wasn't even remotely related to rain that I can recall, but I stopped, dropped the book, and started writing. The following email is what came of it.
One of my favorite things to do is to write to the rain. I would say “write in the rain,” but I’m afraid that might be misconstrued as an image of me scribbling furiously, mad, while the pelts of water drench my hair, face, clothes, and paper. Ah, but this does sound like an exhilarating writing exercise. No, when I write to the rain, it is inside, near a window, where I can watch the first drizzles slash the window until the drops deluge the glass to become tiny streams from floating vertical lakes. There is something about the grayness that excites me, moves me. The rhythmic inundation. Perhaps it’s my version of a meditative state. Writing is my meditation. My tunnel to the divine. (It rained the day after I wrote this.)
I want so badly for the rains to return. I love Portland, but I do miss the South’s summer storms. Black clouds, multi-colored skies. One night, at my first-ever concert, outdoors, we watched the show from a hill as an orange and purple sky gave way to flickers of lightning from behind and within the silhouette of clouds, growing from beautiful to ominous slowly. This sort of storm would happen after an exceptionally hot and humid day. When you could barely move from the sticky air that contained you, like swimming, the wave of wet heat a natural resistance the moment you opened the door. These rains were our relief, our release. It was these rains, and the heat, that made deep porches a decorous essential of the Dixie architecture. They shielded the homes from the hot, near-tropical sun, but also provided shelter as we watched and waited for what the desultory and fitful breeze would eventually bring. It was the kind of coolness that wrapped around your neck and licked your sweat.
It’s as if my entire life has been in anticipation of the returning rain.
In Indiana, where it was not quite so hot, but still warm and humid, we prayed for rain for the crops. The rows and rows and acres of corn and soybeans. Where we watched from our concrete, covered porch on the south side of our white farm house, in the midst of uninterrupted land as far as the eye could see, almost infinitely in absence of anything but the slightest hills, to see the field of grass sway in the wind, our very own private green sea. A lake of leaf blades and seed spikes. And we’d listen, to the pings of rain on our red tin roof, as they quickened from timid, sporadic trickles to constant singing notes of the sky’s crescendoing symphony. Even in the din of noise, every drop played its part.
In Illinois, where I was born and spent my pre-educational childhood, my mother, two brothers, and I would walk after an afternoon rain in the puddles along the streets with our shoes off, the miniature streams along the curb our invisible balance beams. Feeling the wet and mud between my toes, savoring every cool plunge, feeling every fine grain against my not-yet hardened feet.
Water is life, to me, almost more than air. Of course, that might be because I've never had to wait for air. It has always, to this point, been freely given. And I accept it, sometimes with deep, sometimes with shallow breath. When the rain comes, I can breathe. I can feel again. And I can write. But the rain also seems to relish in our anticipation. As if it waits until we can truly wait no longer. Sometimes these swaths of waiting are punctuated with cruel teases. But alas, for now, they always come.
The rain always returns.
Our rain dance ends, our prayers answered.
And we dance in celebration, gratitude, and rejoicing instead.
And I write.
What is it about the rain?
As we watch the smoke clear, as we watch the sun once again recede and weaken, we await the full power of the sky and all of earth’s motions, the clouds’ patience and their long-awaited work.
Without rain, we would have no color, no breeze, no movement in the sky. Our senses would be dulled, our skin harsh. What would we write about except the dryness we wish would be washed away?
The rain in Portland can be deceiving: what looks like a mist, feels like a drizzle, can be drenching after only a short walk. It is never the rain, but perhaps the darkness, that dismays.
The rain, like writing, is heaven-sent. Like words, rain has changed its meaning—from a flood that nearly obliterated earth, to the most life-giving force next to only air, to at times accomplice to battering winds. It is something I never take for granted. When the rain returns, and I again return to write, to soak it in, I situate myself as near a window as I can, and I set my music to the clicking of my laptop keyboard or scales of the piano keys. And I let the words roll over me like the rain on the window panes. And soon enough, my pages are flooded. And my heart is full. All that I have given has come back to me, and I remember it never did leave. It was always everywhere around me, traveling, building, experiencing.
I moved to Portland for the literary life, the writing culture. But writing, for me, like the rain, has always been there. Always beating. Waiting for me to listen. Helping me be patient, so when the deluge regained, I was ready, and I knew: It is time. The rain has returned. The words are here. I merely have to place my page to catch them.
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