Monday, September 14, 2009

It fell like rain

It rained today.

In most places that wouldn't be worth mentioning, but in Texas in early September the fact of rain is a pleasant thing to report. I recall another week in early September, not long after we moved to this state, when the temperatures were reaching 110 degrees--being outside seemed like being on an alien planet. That year the leaves were turning brown in August--not a slow, graceful, colorful transformation, but a heat-wilted sort wherein leaves that had never been much more than listless green went suddenly dark, and fell in lifeless clusters to the ground.

But this year has been different, and the life-giving rain coming so late in what is still technically summer will provide a flourish of green and blooming things, a living crescendo to an already unusual season. How strange it was over this weekend to search for sweaters, for Hatchick to don her favorite rain hat, and even to lay aside sandals in favor of closed-toe shoes so puddles wouldn't leave muddy whirls on bare feet; the temperatures, dipping into seventies territory for the first time since early spring, were more reminiscent of late fall here than late summer.

Indoors today, diligently (if not always happily) applying ourselves to our school books, we heard the weather as it changed: gentle dripping, bursts of heavier rainfall, the melting away of the rain to a mere drizzle. I wondered why the lighting inside seemed so insufficient, but this weather is so rare here that lamps, like blog commenters on many political blogs, seem to add more heat than light, especially in our brilliant summers when the sun is a constant and tangible presence no matter how we try to screen it out with blinds and shades. Our last lamp died an ignominious death caused by gravity and the very poor manufacturing of its gooseneck design; I haven't replaced it, but perhaps, if this rain is a harbinger of this year's fall or winter weather, a lamp or two ought to be purchased. There is nothing quite like a soft circle of subtle lamp light in a room blanketed with the soft gray echoes of rain falling just beyond the windowpanes.

I had intended to write something about this weekend's Tea Party protest in D.C., but somehow the pervasive softness of the drizzle kept me from the properly pugnacious spirit of political commentary. The only sort of tea that seemed at all alluring was the real sort, sending puffs of scented steam curling into the unwonted moisture of the atmosphere. I started musing instead about another sort of tea party, and imagining well-dressed ladies of a gentler age carefully protecting their tea-hats with ruffled umbrellas from the inconvenient weather as they ventured forth to Mrs. A--'s house, her genteel summons for a four o'clock gathering reposing at home in a drawer full of such gratifying communications. Did the manners of that time reflect, as some moderns think, the ugly shadows of social exclusion and moral hypocrisy? Or were they, in some sense, a protection against the coarseness, both social and moral, of an age like our own? The rain, real and imagined, blurs the answer, and makes it seem to be a little of both, contradictory though that is.

But rain tends to do that; the ordinary streets and lawns and views become dulled, softened, blunted; they glisten with what Hatchick said were like tiny diamonds, and which she not-so-secretly wished might be ice or snow, the forty-degree temperature impossibility notwithstanding. Light reflects oddly off of wet pavement or dripping buildings, and it's easy to step back and see beauty in what used to seem utilitarian and drab.

I have a feeling that the movers and shakers of the early twentieth century viewed such things as custom and tradition, social mores and public morals, through a very jaundiced eye, through white-hot light that drained them of the knowledge of the context for such things. And certainly some of the things they were reacting to, the ugly racism that still so strongly plagued our country, the hypocrisy that let the well-connected and the public figures flout the law openly while imposing it strictly against the poor and unknown, and similar injustices, demanded action and attention. There neither could be nor should be a soft gray coating over those things; they were wrong, and had to be torn down.

But in the tearing and remaking something was lost, something of manners and kindness and civility, something that screened children for much longer from the ugly rawness of so much of the adult world. It obscured their view, so that they could not see how many of the adults in their world were in the grip of some vile sin or other, so that they could not even know the names of those sins, and were protected in their innocence from the knowledge of such things. It fell like rain, this thing we now toss aside and call hypocrisy; it screened from a child's view those things a child should not see, and draped them instead with gray fog and wet-washed pavement and strands of little diamonds so they should not know the meaning of words like adultery, divorce, sex, violence, abortion, infidelity, drugs, gangs, murder, rape, child abuse. It kept them from seeing or hearing or learning about these things when they were young, these words they can now hear on a single newscast.

I don't know what to call it, this thing that fell like rain. But I sometimes think it was mercy.

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