What the Thunder Said

The title comes from the last section of T.S. Eliot’s modernist masterpiece, The Waste Land. In that final section, the thunder echoes in a dead, dry land where no water is, promising rain but not delivering.

That is not our current relationship with thunder, but I thought about the poem as I lay in bed last night, watching lightning streak across the sky between us and Peak’s Knob. A year ago, a thunderstorm was just a thunderstorm. I enjoy storms, particularly the ones that boom through on summer evenings, cooling everything down and refreshing the grass. In fact, on the April night of The Storm, I stood in my dining room with a bunch of musicians watching it go by, a green-white wall like nothing we’d seen before.

It wasn’t anything we’d seen before. My kids grew up knowing there was one natural disaster they didn’t have to be afraid of – tornadoes. “The mountains break them up,” we’d say, cheerfully, because we believed it. Turns out, the mountains make them leap skyward again, and set down miles away. Turns out, the finger of the clouds can scrape our mountain town just as if it were hunkered down on some prairie. Tail lights flashed across the valley last night during the storm, and my brain went back to last April, when that side of town was a mass of flashing emergency lights – fire, ambulance, police. Even for an unregenerate storm-lover, it was unsettling.

This summer, when I helped teach art in our community vacation Bible school, we had a kid who drew tornadoes on everything; he even made a toothpick tornado. His family had lost its home, but it seemed that he had lost more than that. I wondered about him last night, if he was able to ride out the storms settled in someone’s lap.  I also hoped he wasn’t listening to the local weather stations, who were playing up the stormageddon angle for all it was worth, like we needed that.

The night of The Storm, my Beloved looked at our friends’ kids, playing with Legos by candlelight. “I’m sorry, you guys,” he said softly. “You’re not going to get to grow up believing we don’t have tornadoes.” You’re not going to sleep easy during a night of storms anymore, either. None of us are.

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