I wish it would rain. The elements taunt me—weighted air, thick clouds, distant thunder. Then nothing. It's the heat before a summer shower on one of those gray days where nothing is tangibly wrong, but everything feels like a metaphor.
This hanging storm. This tottering pressure. Sometimes life is just too heavy! I tell my brain: Stop thinking in clichés. It refuses to cooperate. Perhaps all this building pressure will lead to something. Dry grasses turning green, thirsty crepe myrtles bursting out pink blossoms.
We're in a drought. We've been in a drought for most of the last decade and literal rain is the answer. Yet when it comes, it's ruthless, falling too hard and fast until it spills out of the gutters and fills the streets. Impassable low water crossings and flooded highways. My husband, like some black death forecaster, tells me this is what we can expect from now on. The earth is responding to the weight of humanity. Drought, flood, drought, flood.
Tonight the sky clears, along with some of my dismal diatribe. I walk past the front window at dusk, picking up stray papers, lone shoes, blankets the dog has dragged from the living room. I stop to take a long, slow breath at the closing scene and quietly walk out of the dark house to sit on the curb. A gentle, orange glow lines the edge of the oak branches, barely visible against the sea-green and fathomless blue. A bright spot pulses to the left—Venus awakening. It takes me a few minutes to see any stars. The city hides them well; it's almost impossible to find natural light within the artificial noise of streetlamps, car lights, buildings.
When I was a girl this hour—the hour the sky became a silhouette of tall trees against a deepening blue—I felt something close to panic. My soul, youthful and untethered, could not process the nighttime metamorphosis. The unrelenting phenomenon of ending, the slow expansion of stars. The beauty was lost to me, and my awe inspired terror. What was I in the incomprehensible darkness? Who was I in the bright spots that shown from history; from the years they took to travel? Did I come from the nothingness and would I one day return? I hardly felt like a child in those moments. The first time I read Naomi Shihab Nye's poem "Long Distance" I knew exactly what she meant:
I became that endless black beyond the stars,
knowing nothing, not knowing what it had not known,
and realized it was where I was going,
just as it was where I had been.
For seconds, Mother, or maybe minutes,
I was no longer your child or anything human…
Tonight this familiar tug finds me; it's a nostalgic sadness. I remember evenings in the country with my grandparents, longing for the city. For noise and lights and people; something to override the despair. My youngest child is voicing this struggle now, the existential condition of human being. It's not enough to tell her about God. She's heard of God. The Mystery must be acknowledged. I remember just how she feels, but I marvel at the difference now. The sea of vastness above me is not frightening the way it was as a child.
I still hardly feel like myself, but I'm more human instead of less. Pulled into a common thread, tethered to the universe in a way I wasn't then. God of the stars, God of the endless black, God of the silence, God of knowing and not knowing. God in the questions and fears of childhood. God of it all. It's a mantra of my heart that beats with the movement of the mystery. The shower doesn't come, but I sit on the sidewalk with Seamus Heaney and his rainstick. When she's old enough to appreciate it, I'll share Heaney’s poem with her:
Upend the rainstick and what happens next
Is a music that you never would have known
To listen for. In a cactus stalk
Downpour, sluice-rush, spillage and backwash
Come flowing through. You stand there like a pipe
Being played by water . . .
Upend the stick again. What happens next
Is undiminished for having happened once.
Twice, ten, a thousand times before.
Who cares if the music that transpires
Is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus?. . .
Often the Creator must sing for Herself. Creator of Imagination; Creator of Ordinary. God of a blade of grass and the ever-expanding. Incomprehensible God and God of my limited understanding. God of stony silences and quiet whispers and window-shaking thunder. What I try to tell her is—whatever happens now, there is still the ear of a raindrop to crawl into. The summer sky and the beauty of language; the sacredness of everything.
Monet Lessner is an educator by day and writer by night (when her kids sleep). Too many of her daily calories come from coffee, which she needs to keep up with her three kids and late-night writing tendencies. You can read her work online at Edify Fiction and Literary Mama, or in print in the anthology, Nature's Healing Spirit by Sheri McGregor or the first volume of Silver Needle Press poetry. You can also listen to her read the hilarious and terrifying story of her firstborn's birth at Listen to Your Mother.
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