Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Afraid of the storm

As I drove home during rush hour yesterday evening, I remembered our Minister Emeritus’ favorite Bible passage: “Be not afraid.”

The problem was that I was afraid, a little. Dark pewter clouds hung overhead and there was an ominous stillness in the air. Though no rain was falling yet, every few minutes a line of white-yellow lightning made a vertical streak through the clouds. All afternoon, my office window had offered a tableau of blue sky and sunshine, but I had already received word that there were thunderstorms at home, 20 miles away, and I sensed as I merged onto the highway that I was driving straight toward them.

But then I remembered our minister saying that his favorite phrase from the Bible was that ever-so-simple one of just three words, that remarkably unadorned command: Be not afraid.

Driving on a highway in a thunderstorm should not be a scary experience, I reasoned with myself. This is rain, not snow: ice is not going to be a problem. On this wide interstate, there’s no threat of trees falling. And even if I don’t have as firm a grasp on the physics of electricity as I should, I do know that cars offer fairly reliable protection from lightning.

So as the clouds opened up and buckets of rain started falling into the roadway, I repeated it to myself again: Be not afraid. Yes, there’s something intuitively unnerving about so much noise and so many bright flashes. And yes, the sheets of water pouring down from the sky do decrease visibility a little bit. But it was broad daylight and everyone seemed to be driving carefully. I knew my fear was just general instinct and not common sense.

Being afraid is almost never productive, I reminded myself. Its opposite, being brave, can however be very useful. And its corollary, being cautious, is often a positive thing as well. But straight-out fear? Over being in a car on a wide straight highway when it’s raining? Not useful at all.

So I tried to focus on other aspects of the storm besides its improbable dangers. The color of the lightning against the gray sky was beautiful. The rain would help my newly planted herbs grow, as well as everything else that had recently been planted in gardens and farms all around me. And the slower traffic might actually make my commute safer than it was on an ordinary June evening.

It rained hard for a while, and then the storm lessened. I thought of one of my grandmother’s many peculiar turns of phrase about weather: “It has to get it out of its system.” Not withstanding the linguistic awkwardness of the repeated “its” in that sentence, we were always a little bit amused by her arbitrary interpretation of meteorology, but the thought that the rain would purge itself was indeed comforting. Maybe this means it will be clear for Tim’s class beach party on Wednesday, I reasoned, and even better, for his graduation next Monday.

Maybe. Or maybe not. But it was true that I didn’t have much to fear in this particular storm. Be not afraid: a message that once again reminded me of the uselessness of fear. Next time I’m driving in a storm, maybe I’ll be slower to let anxiety take over. I was safely home an hour later. My herb garden was flourishing in the fresh rainfall. And everything was fine.

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