My maternal grandmother, whom we affectionately and fearfully called "Big Mama," used to make us grandchildren turn off all the lights in the house during thunderstorms and sit quietly on the floor of her living room. She'd tell us to remain as still as we could. We tried our best to stifle our giggling and subdue the inevitable urge to squirm in order to wait the storm out properly.
She may have been motivated by some sort of Southern old-time beliefs, but her strict adherence to this ritual is one of the things we vividly remember about her.
The weather forecast for the day I write this column calls for thunderstorms. I took a morning walk to take advantage of the warm, humid air, so unusual for January. These forces of nature affect people in vastly different ways. Some of us tingle with excitement over the prospect of strong roaring winds and approaching rain. We watch the clouds in anticipation and count the seconds between flashes of lightning and the rumble of thunder. I often stand on my front porch and survey the clouds before a storm, wondering if it will pass quickly or linger.
Others tremble with anxiety and fear, hiding under beds, in closets or anywhere tucked in and safe. They may recall times when these forces turned malevolent, leaving unwanted memories and spiraling winds in their passing.
Interesting elements to study, thunderstorms hardly ever occur in cold climates, in fact, most occur right here in the Southeast. They appear along cold and warm fronts in the atmosphere, making me think of contrasts and conflict. They need lift factors such as mountains, wind or even sea breezes. And they are always accompanied by lightning, which, as common as it is, can be deadly.
Despite this sobering record, storms are necessary for sustained life on planet earth. They nourish the soil and cleanse the air. Somehow, in contrast to their fierceness, they are nurturing forces above us. There is much to learn from storms.
As a child I remember writing a poem about a summer rain. I wrote that it made me feel cool and happy standing under green trees/flinging raindrops on me/flying across the breeze. This romantic and innocent response to nature was written by a girl who had never seen a storm birth a tornado that could whip devastation through a city. I only saw the precipitation in its most virginal quality. I saw it from the angle that life held out to me at that time.
Our unique perspectives about storms are much like the varied perspectives we all have about life itself. Some find it wonderful and breathtakingly amazing, while others wonder why they should get up in the morning. There are those who feel out of control, like life just happens to them randomly, while others are convinced that the messages they send out to the universe determine what comes back to them. They spend time learning to carefully choose and monitor their thoughts and expectations in order to live the life they desire.
Storms show us in vivid color that living can be both vicious and gorgeous, both pregnant with unending possibilities yet threateningly life-quenching. Somehow, when we are caught between the extremes, we have to seek places that lift us, revealing a perspective that helps us see a positive end even as our own personal storm rages, keeping ourselves as safe as possible until it finally passes on.
Tabi Upton is a writer and therapist working at CBI Counseling Center. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.