It’s been raining here for a month. Not the nice, gentle rain that causes the leaves on trees to dance with joy.
No, we’re talking noahic rain: thick, heavy, pathetic sheets of it coming down relentlessly and with intent, an isolating rain that washes all but the next six feet from view. It’s been doing that for twenty three days and counting—seventeen to go.
I usually enjoy the rain, and heavy rain especially. The isolation and constant drum of the rain provide ideal conditions for someone whose idea of contentedness involves a book and some quiet.
I remember reading some time ago in a biography of C.S. Lewis that his ideal state was—and I’m working from memory here, so Lewis fans forgive me—”to be in a small room with a book, recovering from some small malady.”
Rain prompts a similar state in me, and I think that’s why I like rainy days. The sense of solitude, the grey mists, and the darkness create a state where things are really not quite as they seem, not quite as they should be. Something is not quite right. But the best part is being in that state while being keenly aware that you’re really almost at the point of recovery anyway, and the sun’s soon going to come out, and you can kick off the blanket and go run about in the shiny weather, healthy and with renewed vigour. Twilight during the day is just a sham, after all.
But this month, I haven’t been enjoying the rain as much.
Perhaps it’s because the rain has been too heavy. Just when you think the moment of relief is coming, it simply comes down harder. Perhaps it comes when you’re contemplating a close malady for which there can be no convalescence. The rain this September has been mimicking the heaviness around our house and our hearts this fall.
This is what the English lit types call a pathetic fallacy—attributing, in allusive fashion, life-like characteristics to inanimate objects or phenomena. I’ve always understood where the term comes from—if it rains on the just and the unjust alike, it’s probably more accurate to think of rain as indifferent, rather than heavy-hearted. But there’s something about the use of the term pathetic in pathetic fallacy which, to me, seems its undoing. Pathos and rain, grief and tears seem congruent to me, and if the Bible speaks of creation groaning, is it not appropriate to think of it crying?
I was reflecting on this—pathetic fallacies, and the appropriateness of making too close connections between the natural world and the state of one’s heart, or the state of the world—while driving home in the pouring rain a few weeks ago. (If you drive as much as I do, you’ll find yourself thinking of all sorts of strange things, big and small.) I had been thinking of my sick mother-in-law, and after hearing the latest report on the floods in Pakistan on the CBC, I was overcome with grief. Grief, like the rain, seemed to wash over me.
And it was then—thinking about all of the pain in this world suffered by individuals in such great numbers that contemplating it causes despair—that I looked up and I saw a rainbow. It was a very clear, large rainbow bridging the 401 as I headed east. Its brightness stood in stark contrast to the black clouds behind it and above me.
There are some weather phenomena that can’t truthfully be described as indifferent. When I saw the rainbow, what came to my mind was not “it’s going to be a bright bright sunshining day,” but a promise.
The rainbow’s shape alludes to a weapon of war, and there are theologians who read God’s placing of his bow in the sky as it was that it was a foreshadowing of the fact that the next fatal shot would be aimed at God himself. And thinking of that, of the splitting of the earth when Jesus died, of the blackness of the sky, of how pathetic Christ’s death was, gave me hope.
The death of thousands from rains and the destruction of a body from disease are appropriately understood through grief, but not a grief without hope. Let’s call that the pathetic truth.