The Wisdom Of Storms

There is a storm passing through the eastern seaboard and my corner of Massachusetts.  The worst is on the coast but there are some significant gusts of wind and rain passing through here.  Despite the danger of tree branches falling on my head I just couldn’t spend the whole day and night in the apartment.  I decided to venture down to the watering hole in the town center.  The magic of Facebook informed me that the Black Horse was going to stay open in defiance of Poseidon’s wrath.  As a lifelong devotee of Odysseus I could hardly refuse the challenge to make so a puny voyage for a glass of Oban.  I’d be ashamed to do otherwise.

When I eventually drained the dram and left to head home the wind and rain were still blowing strongly through the town common.  It’s a funny thing about storms. They wake you up.  Maybe it’s the wind or the rain in your face but a good storm makes you look around with mild surprise and say “Oh look.  I’m HERE!”

This time, as I looked around, I was struck by one of those sharp pieces of memory that assert themselves with all the force of immediate reality.

I spent the bulk of 1984 as a student abroad in Ireland and lived just south of Dublin in Blackrock.  This was in the days before the “Celtic Tiger” economic boom turned that neck of the woods into a much more developed urban sprawl.  While out on an ongoing series of expeditions to pubs and historic sites and pubs and villages and pubs and spots of natural beauty and pubs and then some pubs I somehow found myself alone at night (probably Dun Laoghaire) and with no prayer of a bus back northward along the coast to Blackrock and eventually City Centre.  This sort of thing happened with a regularity that would alarm anyone who wasn’t Irish, buzzed and twenty-one years of age.  As it happened, I applied my universal solution to everything in those days and just started walking.  All roads led someplace good or interesting.  It was an easy belief to maintain then.

It was raining which, in Ireland, comes as a surprise only to the naïve and the insane.  At that time I wore Irish wool sweaters and one of those old army M65 field jackets with the strangely thin inadequate hood.  I had lots of hair then so between the hood and my Ian Anderson hairstyle I felt pretty comfortable.

At some point I found myself at an intersection where some houses and a little local general store came together.  I couldn’t tell you to save my life where this was and I doubt that today it looks at all the same.  It’s lost in time for me but I can see it with absolute clarity.  It was night, the rain came down and a breeze was blowing strongly and there was not a soul to be seen.  Respectable people must have been asleep as I never did see a single light in a window.  I have a photograph memory of a white stucco wall and a dark window and a dim street light in a drizzling rain.  I remember that window as some symbolic gateway into any number of futures.  As I walked I was aware of being completely alone.  But along with the wind and the feel of the rain was an absolute awareness of not being alone.  No, it was not the presence of deity.   I was simply awake.  I had that mild sense of surprise as I looked around and felt the clarity of the thought “Oh my, look, I am HERE”.  I was awake in nature and at one of those luminous crossroads of possibility.  I was keenly aware that I could walk in any direction and towards any fate and it would all be GOOD.  No, not good in a moralistic sense but still it would be good in the sense that it would work.   I would be just fine.

I was aware of that tonight.  It is a belief that’s less easy to hold on to over time even if it remains equally true.  As I watched the branches blowing around and felt the wind in my face I was simply HERE.  It was important and good to be awake.  It can be shockingly hard to maintain.  Twenty-eight years ago I knew that all directions would be fine.   The wind and rain tonight reminded me that the same is true.   My choices are less now about a wide open future and more about the options that remain.  No matter, the night and the storms are teachers to whom we cannot lie.  Even if there are only moments or decades the choice remains the same.  What will I do while I am HERE?

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