Life Among the Raindrops

This morning light grey clouds cover the sky. The high blue sky of yesterday might be somewhere above, but no gaps appear this morning. It feels as if the roof has been lowered to a space only a short way above my head. Walking into work feels like walking through air that was only a shade less thick than water. And then the rain begins.

When caught in the rain, people walk with their shoulders hunched down and their heads bowed. Their pace slows. I feel it too, the reflexive inward pull against the precipitation. If I can just make myself smaller, I will not get as wet. Still, I do get wet. Sometimes lightly moistened, sometimes soaked. Until I get to my car, where my umbrella waits in the trunk, rain will get me no matter what I do.

When I sailed, rain could last for days. We would sit in the cockpit in our two man watches and just take it. Even in weather gear, water finds a way right down to your skin. After six or fifty six hours of rain, you just become swollen. Your fingernails soften. Then the calluses on your heels peel away. It’s only a matter of time before the bones in your face melt into some new configuration. But at some point, and almost in spite of of your soup-ification, your shoulders unfurl from their mock-fetal crouch and you become human again. Your head rises and you scan the horizon, which is your duty anyway, so you make it as easy as it had been when you were dry. You break out of the shell of reflex and return to humantiy.

When I walk into rain now, I feel that first crimping each time. Not doing it would mark me as inhuman, and I am, if nothing else, too human. But I stretch my neck, roll my shoulders back into place, lift my chin, and stride, as I always do, into the rain. It’s just rain, I remind myself, no matter whether it is a sprinkle or a torrent. It’s just water.

And I think, if this is how my body responds to a temporary inconvenience, what must my mind be doing in this moment? How many things are like the rain in my mind, causing me to shorten my sight, draw inward, become less than what I am? Bernie Sanders is making a case about the impact of living pay check to pay check–surely, this is like walking in the rain. Or of the impact of making less money for the same day’s work. Or of having to think about whether you will be stopped or shot at because of the color of your skin, or the color of your uniform. Imagine what it must be like to feel as if there was a steady insistent mental rain falling on your shoulders.

A few years ago, I had to explain what depression felt like to my daughter. A friend of ours had committed suicide after struggling with depression. I told my daughter that our friend couldn’t see any other possibility. I took a magazine and rolled it into a tube and said, “This was all she could see.” I imagine that the experience of mental rain causes us to limit our vision, forcing our gaze, if only by reflex, to the puddles in front of our feet, (Don’t step in this one, that one, this one), until all the world is puddle and all our shoes are ruined and there is no place to put our feet down dry.

We live among the raindrops. I can say this, not living in Seattle, where the steady rain can threaten to wash even the green from the morning. I can say this because I can look at forecasts that have sun just a few days away. I can say this because I can remember when the rain started. And so I do say it, and I do look up, and my vision can distinguish the drops as they fall—small beads of water spun around motes of dust. And I do look up, and into the faces that I meet, and we are here, together, in the rain, just as we are together in the sun. And I look up and see the water between us, like a connect-the-dots page in three dimensions, extending as far as there is rain.

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Brian Brennan

I am a writer and a teacher. I have lived in Philadelphia, Binghamton, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Northern Virginia. I have sailed on the ocean and flown over the North Pole. I write fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

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