I woke last night to the sound of thunder.
Actually, it was two Fridays ago, in the wee hours. After a couple of minutes, I realized that the waves going through my brain were the kind that indicate alertness; there would be no going back to sleep. It happens sometimes.
So I got up and put on the coffee, then sat in the Hernon-Wills Supercollider Observatory (my back porch) and watched the storm.
Did you see it? It was dramatic. Through the darkness, lightning shot across the sky as if from Dr. Frankenstein’s electrodes. The thunder boomed deeply in the distance like Leonard Cohen’s voice. Eventually, rain began to tap on the metal roof over my head and as my feet got wet, thoughts flitted through my head, as they do.
For a while I thought about that old Bob Seger tune, “Night Moves,” and there’s a lot I could say about it. When it was released in 1977, rock music was important to me not just as entertainment, but culturally. My friends and I discussed song lyrics as if we were translating the Voynich manuscript. Working on mysteries without any clues.
I didn’t realize this then, but the song was bold for its day. Presumably aimed at younger listeners, it told the story of an older man reminiscing about his first … well, not his first love. His first lover.
But back then, even though I probably didn’t understand the message, not as I do now — or catch the nuance of the line, “with autumn closing in” — the music, with its lone acoustic guitar and quiet pauses, conveyed a sense of poignancy. Even at a tender age — I was a high-school senior — it made me feel lonesome.
Seger was in his early 30s at the time. Now in his mid-70s, he might laugh at his temerity then, writing about the autumn of his life. But the song holds up.
On the porch, I pondered other things: weekend plans, a new mission to Mars that launched Thursday. And, inevitably, I tried to make sense of some political thing or other.
Sometimes it feels like there are two realities in American life. There’s what happens to us as we walk the streets, going into stores or sitting at our desks at work; walking through the neighborhood looking for foxes. Most exchanges are polite or friendly. (I’ve been practicing smiling through my mask, hoping people will be able to tell and feel a little cheered, the way other people often cheer me.)
Then there’s what the legislators are up to, which we generally learn through the news. Note the study mentioned in today’s editorial; we’ve all known for some time now that Congress can’t seem to get anything done. It’s too politicized, both sides, and much of the rhetoric we hear is overheated, inaccurate and ridiculous. (Next on my reading list: “The Death of Expertise” by Tom Nichols.)
It’s a truism now to note that coronavirus has revealed the weaknesses in our systems of governance and health care, and possibly voting. Not that we can be prepared for every contingency; we can’t — but we surely could have been better prepared for this one.
We’ve got to find a way out. Something’s got to give.
Sitting on a porch with a cup of coffee watching a storm, that other reality can seem like a dream. But we can’t ignore it. Decisions made in Raleigh and Washington wind up having a tangible effect on us here in Winston-Salem. To be good citizens, we have to pay attention — we have to listen and think.
I guess we need a balance.
Eventually the sky brightened and it was time to eat breakfast, read the news and feed the squirrels.
But I enjoyed the storm. I’ve enjoyed every bit of rain this month, even though it interferes with stargazing. The rain is nice just because it’s different.
This is my least favorite season, with such oppressive heat and humidity that it can generate the sort of seasonal affective disorder that some people feel in the winter. Everything feels heavy.
The circumstances of the virus continue to be challenging, along with the political discord, the sheer uncertainty about how my life and the lives of my friends will go. It’s more challenging for people who are struggling to pay rent and keep the kids fed.
But I still feel optimistic. I’m a child of Star Trek, a believer in a brighter future, certain that we can create something wonderful if we just ... do something different.
How far off? I sit and wonder.