The lawn is an old brown carpet. Despite daily watering, many of the garden plants have withered, shed leaves and drooped so far down that they touch soil so parched that it might as well be hardened rock.
And then, after several weeks of rain falling everywhere but here, just a few hours ago, dark, wet spots appeared on the roofs of cars, on the baked gray asphalt in the street and, most obviously on the sidewalk in front of the house. As in nature, and our minds, dots began to connect to themselves and what was dry became gloriously, marvelously, miraculously wet. The roof thrummed with a gentle patter that became a hammering onslaught that then calmed down, as if, having surprised us with a sudden, unexpected play, the great gamer in the sky has pulled back to contemplate the next move.
I have started and ended some of my novels with storms. Having lived at the New Jersey shore, I’ve seen how a storm can change everything, for better, but, usually, for the worse.
It’s not for nothing that I’ve seen Shakespeare’s King Lear many times.
The famous scene occurs in the middle of the play, in which the Lear, betrayed by his two daughters, stripped of his army and all other possessions, rages pathetically at a storm pouring down upon him. At his side is his only friend, the Fool–his court jester who, in addition to telling truth to power in complicated puns and wit, shows a genuine, unconditional love for the addled King. They are soon joined by the loyal and faithful Duke of Kent, whom Lear had previously banished. Together they take shelter in an abandoned hut.
Though Shakespeare wrote during the English Renaissance, when the provincial British island became a major European power, this scene echoes the medieval attitude that storms and catastrophes mask the action of “providence,” the divine power that works in nature to rights wrongs, punish evil and restore a sense of moral balance to our turbulent world. The play suggest that we can either let troubling, disruptive events bring out the best in us (as they do with the Duke of Kent, the Fool, Cordelia and Edgar) or the worst (Lear, before he learns his lesson, as well as Edmund, Regan, Goneril and their spouses).
Right now loving kindness seems in short supply. The nation is terribly divided politically, morally, economically and ethically. As Lear yells at the height of the storm’s fury, we consider ourselves “more sinned against than sinning,” that is, so obsessed with how others have victimized us that we ignore, for forget, what we did to bring us to our fate.
We rage in private and in the treacherously open wilderness of social media. We see the rich, the powerful and the merely famous behave badly in public and everyone wonders how, or if, the rain will come.
Until it does, we have better things to do than be an audience for the churlish raging of others.
We have better things to do than encourage, condone, defend and propagate such infantile tantrums.
We have better things to do than suffer in a storm. We should, as the Duke of Kent advises, take shelter because “man’s nature cannot carry the affliction or the fear.”
Lear eventually understands that there is more to be valued in loyalty and loving kindness than in all the land and armies he had once possessed. But epiphanies, however welcome, don’t always save us, and those we love, from the consequences of our mistakes.
No matter how long the drought may last, the rain will come. We owe it to ourselves to be the best we can, to nurture what is honest, loyal, loving and kind–before we, like the proud, vain, irascible king, lose everything.