The surprising experiences of one’s youth, suddenly reinserting themselves sixty-five years in, take one’s breath away. Just last night, one of those remarkable experiences both startled and stunned me, yet left me delighted.
I awoke in the darkest part of the night to percussive sounds of distant thunder. This was not the guttural growl like bass-note echoes in a deep canyon. It was the staccato sound of machine gun fire, a frenetic beat of a solo jazz drummer. Flashes, keeping time with the drum beat, bathed the walls of the room with intense blue light. The blue bursts entered the room, in rapid succession, from alternate windows, as if the lightning was spinning around the house, trying to find a way in through every pane of glass. Though my description may make the experience sound terrifying, it was not. Instead, the cacophony of light and sound mesmerized me, each explosive blue eruption dancing in perfect cadence with the rhythmic noise. Seeing and hearing this remarkable atmospheric display took me back to my childhood, when I first witnessed that simultaneous miracle of Mother Nature’s rage and ecstasy. The experience transfixed me, as a little boy. And it happened again a few hours ago, when I got out of bed, went into the darkened living room, and stood staring through the plate-glass at the world outside my window. Each flash of lightning, seeming to emanate from a layer of low clouds above me, washed over a cloak of fog below, illuminating the valley and hills beyond in a dark blue blanket tinged with light blue, almost white, along the edges. As silly as it might seem now, I felt like I was witnessing a microcosm of the chaos and terrifying beauty of creation. The sense of magic I first felt as a child, when I saw and heard similar sights and sounds, returned last night. It engulfed me with awe, as if I had seen a miracle.
This morning, in the dull grey daylight, the appearance of the world outside my window is less impressive. The sky is solid grey, almost white, absorbing most of the sun’s light or reflecting it back toward the ball of fire from whence it came. But it’s the same sky that, last night, transformed a tired old man into a child again. I suppose the sense of awe at Nature’s displays never disappears. It hides behind layer upon layer of monotonous experience, but when unleashed it reveals in us youthful exuberance and childish astonishment. That’s a joyous combination in anyone, but especially in people who have reached the point that life seems just a jejune exercise in boredom. I recommend awakening and watching the sky during lightning storms.