The sky darkens suddenly. You can see the clouds rolling in like thick, black chariots of war. The wind whips through your hair and under your dress.
A storm is coming.
Moments before, you were casually walking home from work. You were considering a brief stop at the grocery store. You were responding to text messages. You were making plans. But now everything has changed. And when the wind gushes by again, forcing it’s way under your clothes another time, your vulnerability is made palpable.
This is what living abroad does to you in general. It exposes. It reveals. Your moats and parapets, your firewalls are all paper facing a hard rain. And there is nothing you can do to stop it. Even if you run, your human palms are not wide enough to dam up the sky. Child. Your frailty is ever with you.
Our lives are punctuated by storms. The sudden and the difficult. The merely inconvenient and the Maria’s. And while I do think we learn a great deal about ourselves while the storm rages, there’s actually something to be said for how we behave when the tempest approaches. That’s when we are most given to give in to fear, to fly in the face of a fight. And indeed, if I could fly away from every storm this monsoon season, I would.
Several years ago, my mom, my cousin, and my grandma and me went fishing on a lake in Mississippi. It was one of those rare summer days in the South where the heat is nearly tolerable. And there we sat, rods in the water. My cousin, I recall was big pregnant. And I remember listening to her voice chatter (she ever was an amazing raconteur), but suddenly, her story broke off and she said to my mom, “Aintee, wasstat?” And we all turned our heads in the direction of her raised hand. And there, as silent as the grave, was a literal wall of rain racing down the far side of the lake, hurdling toward us. My mother, still young and athletic, gave my cousin the keys. “Run!” She told us, as she gathered everything. And she encouraged grandma to hurry it up. But as vividly as I remember that wall of rain, I remember the look of resignation on my grandmother. It wasn’t a look she wore on her face. It was a look she wore on her entire body.
She was a woman who had known many storms.
My cousin, though her belly was huge, and I, though my young legs were short, darted up the dock to the car. And even though we had a good head start, my mom was soon on our heels, rods and tackle box clicking and clacking. But of all the sounds that I can recall–my cousin’s shrieks, my mother’s admonitions to run, the sloshing of water in buckets–the sound I remember most was the sound of the rain breaking land. It was an angry, loud dash of water that cracked against the pavement of the parking lot. It was as though the entire sky was an overturned bucket. And I knew then that it wasn’t a matter of if the rain caught us, but when; so I stopped. And like Lot’s wife, I looked back. I turned just in time to see the rain engulf my grandmother. I saw her disappear into the wet and gray of it all. And I saw her slow, resigned walk. I held my gaze on her shadowy figure, until the rain blurred my vision as it swallowed me.
The cold, heavy droplets pounding against my skin triggered my tendency to fly. And fly I did. I remember peering through the glass. I remember the sound of worry in my voice, “Momma, I can’t see grandma.”
I’m more like my mother than my grandmother. I spring into action. I protect the people I love. And myself. But that doesn’t mean that my grandmother’s teachings aren’t also inside of me, complicating my perspectives, challenging my tendencies.
So back to my other story. Back to you.
You snap a photo of clouds. You send a video to your friends to make light of your real fear of being on the back of a motorcycle taxi when the bottom falls out of the Bangkok sky. You scurry along. And as sure as sunrise, the first droplets start to speckle your face and arms as the motorcycle is weaving in between cars. You’ve tried your best though. You walked as fast as you could. The real rain comes almost as soon as your close your door behind you. Lucky girl.
But you remember how weak your heart was before the storm.