I of the Storm


By Dyana Herron

Even as I write this, residents in and around Nashville, in my home state, are suffering from recent floods. Some are temporarily displaced, some have lost their homes for good, some are mourning family members and friends. All because of rain—rain that came hard and came fast, causing the Cumberland River to crest its banks.

When I tell people in Tennessee that I live in Seattle, they always make jokes about rain. “I bet you spend a lot on raincoats!” they say, or, “I would get depressed living in a place where it rains all day, every day.” Before I moved here, I said the same to my Seattle friends, and now adopt their response, statistics about how Seattle gets less average rainfall per year than Atlanta or Houston.

The rain in Seattle isn’t like the rain back home. It rarely comes down with any real weight, but drizzles lightly, beading on my hair instead of soaking it. I can blink it away. Drivers leave their windshield wipers on the lowest settings. There is no violence to this rain, just a frequency to it, a persistence.

The problem is, I love a good storm. As a kid I would sprawl out in front of the television to watch Twister on VHS. I wanted to be Helen Hunt, or even better Philip Seymour Hoffman, crazy in a speeding truck, trying to get as close to a funnel as possible so I could throw in bucket of metal sensors—or maybe, as was Hunt’s character’s desire, see God.

The idea that God’s moods become manifest in weather, or that God is present in weather, isn’t new. Although grown-ups understand that weather is caused by hot and cold fronts of air moving across land and water, still in our movies fear and heartbreak are accompanied by a sharp crack of thunder and the pounding of rain on a window: this feels right.

Also, as one raised on stories in which God performed or gave others the ability to perform miracles on Earth—a bush that burns but is not consumed, a bottomless basket of loaves and fish, a man raised from the dead—I was fascinated by severe weather, which I considered perhaps the only remaining vestige of God doing mighty and terrifying things in the natural world.

Because my family lived in a mobile home, easily sucked up by a passing funnel, tornado warnings sent us into the dark of my grandmother’s basement. We sat on cold cinderblocks beside dusty wood shelves where canned vegetables floated in mason jars.

I loved the drama of it all. I loved playing outside and feeling the drop in air pressure and the rise of wind, seeing the tree leaves flip over to expose their pale undersides. I loved standing on the lawn to watch the rain pour in sheets a few fields away, and racing it to my porch. I loved my mom gathering up blankets, candles, the flashlight, and radio. I loved us all sitting together, listening to the weather man list the names of surrounding counties towards which danger was headed, or over which it had passed.

Afterwards, when the storm had exhausted itself or continued raging past our neighborhood, we would move into the new ravaged world, assessing the damage: the downed branches, loosed shingles, and sometimes even upturned trees, their massive root systems still encased in hard red dirt. Even if the storm had been a harmless one, all bark and no bite, it felt good being spared, surviving.

In the past years, however, my views on storms have grown more complex. The havoc wreaked by hurricanes (you know their names), tsunamis, and regular old floods—which I experienced only through the second-hand means of media—left me wondering whether God is in the weather after all. And as often happens in times of disaster, what impressed me more than the strength and scope of the damage was the outpouring of human compassion that followed.

The crisis in Nashville has hit close to home—geographically and emotionally. And I’ll admit that sometimes when I see the Seattle skyline darken and brood I long for a rumble, a flash, a wind that picks up parts of my life and sets them down again somewhere else.

But peace, I am learning to love it, too. The slow drizzle of it, its steady hand.

Note: This post was orginally published on the Image Journal blog Good Letters.