The Calm Within the Storm


At the beach the other night, I watched with glee as the sun set on the western horizon while a massive thunderstorm crept in from the southeast. I thought I was leaving at the perfect time: Just before the storm’s leading edge arrived, I turned back for one last look at the clear orange sunset—and it was on that side of me that a massive lightning bolt struck the point a few hundred yards away, leaving just enough time for me to announce “Fuck?!” to the other handful of beachgoers before the earsplitting crack-BOOM of thunder.

And though I upped my pace a bit carrying a metal beach chair the quarter-mile home, I couldn’t stop smiling with every new boom (that, among other things, conveniently assured me I had not yet been struck dead). And when I got there, the darkness having arrived faster than it might normally, I didn’t even turn on the lights—just opened all the blinds and sat (in the AC, ’cause it was hot as a motherfucker) blissfully surrounded by the thunder, lightning, wind and rain.

From what I can gather, lots of people like thunderstorms.

For me, they’re a simultaneous soothing and stimulant—maybe like when smokers say a cigarette calms them down. (Or when I say alcohol energizes me.) But this week, since welcoming summer thunderstorm season with open arms, I haven’t quite been able to describe the nature of a good storm’s effect on me.

It might be that a thunderstorm generates a sort of survival instinct that draws you out of yourself, diminishing all other stressors with pure, instinctual focus. But then there’d be terror, too, right? I dunno. I’m sure that’s what it does for the cat, anyway.

Or maybe, along those lines, it’s an adventure—something like how I think of sports. A distraction. A game that’s temporarily thrust upon you, and you get to navigate these strange circumstances for as long as it lasts.

Maybe it’s sort of the opposite: That as a child, a serious thunderstorm ensured the cancellation of a soccer game—the erasure of all immediate obligations and impending conflict.

Some people have ventured that it’s the violence and chaos of a thunderstorm that suits me. I’m not sure about that—although I love the reputation. As though they imagine me still and grinning while I savor the thrashing trees and lightning and stinging rain.

But I don’t think “I love chaos” is an accurate bumper sticker for the jittery, paranoid neuroses that generally drive me.

Similarly, I think, maybe I like to sympathize with a storm, because it gets to generate a noise and destructiveness that I can rarely achieve. And even more rarely get away with. Oh, do I like to scream and throw things and hit people—but then there’s all that paperwork and apologizing to be done. But an unthinking, uncontrollable, all-encompassing, kick-over-the-trash-can, chuck-a-bough, blow-up-a-breaker, rattle-the-windows, guilt-free tantrum? Sounds lovely.

Still and all, I’m so profoundly soothed by storms that the violence seems beside the point. The sheer physical relaxation I feel is like…it’s sort of like when you get your hair shampooed at the salon (or barber, or whatever)? You’ve got your neck in the curved sink thing, eyes closed, and there’s warm water flowing over your scalp—and then, then they have to get to the back of your head so they lift your whole head up and so fully support its weight that your neck is suddenly free from all duties and achieves an almost spiritual relaxation. That kind of calming.

The best description might be rather meta, in that thunderstorms are my Thundershirt.

All that being said, you just know what’s gonna happen, right? Within the next 72 hours, there’s sure to be a massive storm that scares the absolute bejeezus out of me, ensuring I’ll never again curse a sunny day.

But until that happens…


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