With all the warm and sunny weather we’ve been having in Boston for the past few days, it has already become easy to forget the intense and prolonged rainstorms that swept through the area just a few weeks ago. One in particular, however, was truly unforgettable. It arrived on the evening of February 25—I recall the date because it was the night before a draft of a legal brief was due—and the storm hit with a fury I don’t think I’ve seen in Boston in the last five years.
Working together on our brief, my drafting partner and I were seated in the upstairs portion of the student center on the law school campus. This is a large, open room and its exterior wall consists entirely of windows—a feature that is pleasant enough on a sunny afternoon, but one that is downright terrifying when a storm of this size arrives in the dark of night.
We literally saw it coming—a vertical wall of water, pouring down where previously there had been nothing but a slight breeze. With the arrival of the torrential rain, the wind whipped up, too. Seated near the windows, it was almost as if we were physically assaulted by this onslaught of rain.
Then, the windows began to shudder from the force of the wind. We heard the rain pelting against the roof of the building—a phenomenon that would not have been remarkable except for the fact that this rain was separated from our heads by several layers of concrete. Further down the wall, a window groaned against wind’s weight, and the nervous students sitting nearby (also working feverishly to complete their draft) gave up a few precious moments of time to relocate to the center of the room.
I closed my eyes briefly and said a silent prayer for whoever might happen to be out there in the middle of the storm, then opened my eyes to the reality that I probably wouldn’t be leaving the building for a while—and decided to get back to work.
The rain continued outside the window, and pondlike puddles quickly formed. After only a quarter of an hour, I half expected to look out the window and see the animals walking two by two through the slanting rain.
Then the lightning hit.
Lightning and thunder are rarities here, at least in my experience. We have our share of storms, but thunderstorms in Boston must be limited to the summer; I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard thunder while on campus, and everyone seems to talk about it whenever it happens. Did you hear the thunder? Wasn’t that wicked fierce?
In this case, the answer to both questions was definitely yes. The storm was getting even worse; visions of Twister flashed through my mind, and all my childhood training told me to head for the basement until I recalled that we don’t get tornadoes out East. (We do get hurricanes and nor’easters, which are probably basement-worthy, but somehow I didn’t consider that at the time…)
In any case, the rain did eventually die down, and near midnight I finally decided to venture out of the building and back to my apartment. But what a world I stepped into when I did!
The wind was still scurrying over leftover pond-puddles, and was whistling so loudly around trees and between buildings that a phone conversation I was attempting on the way back proved impossible. Halfway back from the campus, the local world was plunged into darkness: the power had gone out in a five- or six-block radius surrounding my apartment, and everything I could see was lit only by the eerie glow of distant Boston. I felt a bit like Snow White in the forest—all the trees seemed out to get me, and a squirrel rustling across the dead leaves caused me to grip my umbrella more tightly, ready to use it as a defensive weapon. By the time I finally arrived safely back at my apartment, the only thing I was good for was bed.
The next morning dawned sunny and clear, almost as though the storm had never happened at all. The howling wind of the night before had once again been replaced by a light breeze. The power had been restored to the neighborhood, and the world itself seemed to breathe a sigh of relief after the battle that had raged in the darkness. The view from the front porch reminded me of the oft-quoted Robert Browning poem:
And yet all was not quite right with the world. The rain had left a number of casualties in its wake, and the walk back to campus that morning confirmed that a storm had passed this way.
Near my apartment, a tree was down—or, rather, half of it was. Its trunk had snapped in the wind, and its top half was now lying shattered on the ground. Further down the street, a carpet of pine needles that had not been there the day before now covered the sidewalk for half a block. Further still, a single slate shingle lay near the edge of the road, broken into three distinct pieces and giving no clue as to its origin. Telephone vans were out making their rounds, and a number of wires were down.
Yes, a storm had been here.
But perhaps the single most memorable casualties of rain were the umbrellas—if they could any longer be called that. They lay abandoned in the most unexpected of places: in the middle of the sidewalk, on the windshield of a station wagon, against the corner of a wall, among the lower branches of a tree. They were horribly mangled, with bent wires and torn fabric. They would never be any good to anyone again.
They looked so sad and forlorn, lying there in the bright morning sun, spent and worn after surrendering in the battle of the night before. The sun seemed almost to mock them, as if to show them what could have been theirs if they had only lasted through the storm. I found myself wondering about their owners: whether they had abandoned them in a fit of disgust, or whether the storm had snatched them out of their hands. However they met their fate, the umbrellas were a stark reminder of a recent time when the weather had not been as pleasant or forgiving as it was now.
I think that all of us have our own umbrellas—casualties left behind from the rains of the night before. We’ve all gone through difficult emotional experiences, and in most cases we’ve weathered the storm. But even now that the sun is shining, a few derelict reminders of the battle remain, not entirely hidden from view. Sometimes we manage to forget about them for a while, but occasionally they resurface. When they do, they may make us (or others) unhappy; no one wants to be reminded of the storm.
But the important thing to remember—always—is that even these umbrella-like casualties of rain, forlorn and unwelcome as they may be, would never be visible if the storm had not ended and the light had not returned.