I believe in thunderstorms. It is a belief that comes from the ability of their brief but haunting presence to bombard the senses and cause both creative and destructive change in the world. Rain fills land, carving rivers that may either aid or drown life, and while small lightning fires allow forest diversity, they can be devastating if they rage out of control.
Good thunderstorms are unforgettable, stomping across the world like angry gods. It is both the potential and danger of these storms that make them so fascinating to me. When I was 14 my family camped a few nights in an arid portion of South Dakota known as the Badlands. It is a landscape defined by storms that over centuries washed away clay and hard soil, bit by bit, leaving behind a Martian terrain of cliffs, hills and spires. We set up our five-man tent in a campground under the lengthening afternoon shadow of rock formations. As the sun crept deeper beneath the horizon, thick gray clouds boiled over the Badlands. Flashes of lightning shocked the purple sky and a strengthening wind pulled dust from the ground. Before the rain hit our campsite, Dad led my brother and me halfway up one of the nearby spires where we watched the sky split and felt the ground tremble under the storm.
Out of the four days my family hiked and explored the Badlands only that moment spent in the storm remains un-faded in my memory. The rest of those experiences fall to the decay of time, ghostly figures anchored to that night on the stone spire. I believe that storms are sky-reaching monuments built on the hills of our personal histories; that storms can define our lives.
But storms are dangerous and these monuments are not constructed without some risk. This past summer, my family hiked a few miles off a gravel road along a path on north rim of the Grand Canyon. On our way back from clouds rushed in from the horizon, flashing and growling their way toward us. From the numerous split and charred trees lining the trail, we figured that a lightning strike was a definite possibility. I remember eyeing the sky with apprehension as we picked our way along the canyon rim path back to the car, hoping I wouldn’t end up split into pieces like the blackened trees.
The danger of storms raises them above the everyday experience and impacts our lives. I believe that the great moments in life come not in the times of perfect stability, but when uncertainty forces you to seize what you never knew you could reach. Storms are not merely representations of doom, but opportunities to prove and redefine ourselves in the face of hardship and tragedy. Dangerous, frightening, unsure situations allow the coward or the selfish individual to become heroes, and they give anyone the chance to pull themselves out of the tar pits of mediocrity.
At the same time though, seizing opportunity could result in electrocution and a fiery descent from our current positions. Is it worth the risk? I’d say so, and anyways, there’s no escaping the occasional shower. You can play it safe and hide out in a dark basement or underneath your desk where the only thing that changes is the size of the dust bunnies. But whether you stay inside or move out into the rain, I would like you to remember these words by abolitionist Fredrick Douglas: “It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake.”
I believe that if life is but a dream, storms are the captivating edge of awakening.