Lightening strikes and we’re all suddenly friends. That’s more or less what happens when strangers are thrown together in one of South Florida’s many summertime rainstorms. At least, that’s what happened to me on one sticky July afternoon last summer while trying to leave Bed Bath and Beyond.
The skies had been clear when we all entered the store. None of us carried umbrellas. And when the blue suddenly turned to black, the afternoon sky lit up with blinding flashes of light followed immediately by booming crashes. We all gathered together inside the store, watching the automatic doors open and close as their magnetic sensors overreacted to our nervous pacing.
An Indian woman bowed her head in embarrassment as her three pre-school-aged daughters squealed with each thunder strike. The rest of us looked on with sympathy, relating both with the mother shamed by her daughters’ raucousness and with the little girls fearing for their lives.
To my left, an older woman confessed to an aromatherapy fetish, as we both perused the display of oils and reeds for sale at the exit. “I didn’t come here to buy this stuff today,” she admitted, “but maybe this is God’s way of telling me to treat myself.” She randomly grabbed for one of the twenty-dollar boxes of sandalwood oil and scuttled over to the checkout counter, but not before glancing back at me with a look that begged my confidence.
I held a finger to my lips and whispered loudly, “I won’t tell a soul.”
Standing just beyond arms’ reach was an incredibly handsome young man whose dark Latin eyes remained fixed on the torrential rains outside. How fortunate I was, I realized, to be able to watch him so closely and yet appear to be doing nothing of the sort.
I enjoyed the physical proximity of these strangers, and I felt a kinship with the seven other people trapped with me in the store for what we perceived to be a great disruption of our daily schedules but what was really only a blink in time.
After a few moments of silence, but with the rain still blowing by horizontally, a large golden bolt cut through the sky.
(Photo by Glen Wurden)Before we could open our mouths in awe, a deafening thunder clap shook the building and brought tears to the eyes of the woman to my right. With a trembling hand, she wiped her eyes. “I felt that in my heart,” she said.
The handsome young man wiped his brow with the back of his hand.
For the first time in minutes, the three little girls were absolutely silent.
The oddest part about the fifteen or so minutes that I spent with these people is that none of us used the cell phone. Usually when people want an easy way out of feeling alone, they open their phones and get to work finding someone to gripe to. But not this day. We all seemed to find an unspoken comfort in knowing that there were already others nearby who understood our frustration, and our fear.
The crying woman said she had never seen a storm so angry (obviously not an experienced Florida resident), and the aromatherapy woman, now having returned with her newest purchase, held her nose in the air and said she could smell the delicious rain. The handsome young man smiled at me and said nothing, which was just fine. I smiled back, enjoying the mystery of the moment and pretending we shared a private story. The three little Indian girls returned to their dancing, a mixture of merriment and terror. Their mother rolled her eyes and stated with an air of wisdom, “Ah, what the rains can do!”
Eventually, the lightening subsided and the rain began to fall vertically. Then it got softer, and we all realized it was time to resume our lives.
In the true romantic form of a writer, I accepted that the end of our moment had come. Determined to document my experience as soon as possible, I boldly took the first step toward the exit doors and announced my departure. “It’s been a little slice of heaven,” I said, saluting my stranger-friends with a quick smile.
Crying Woman smiled back.
Aromatherapy Woman held up her package in a parting salutation.
Indian Mother and her girls waved goodbye enthusiastically.
Handsome Young Man tipped his head ever-so-subtly.
Grabbing my own purchase close to my chest, I faced the rain and darted nimbly to my car. As I drove away, I felt a strange sadness. I didn’t even know their names. And I never would. It was just a blink in time.