Monday, May 10, 2010

On South Florida Storms (Or, A Blink in Time)

I actually wrote this post last summer as a journal entry to remember a moment I found poetic. I give it to you today, updated for coherence purposes...

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.


  1. This is so nicely written. I really enjoyed reading about this little moment out of time, and that you were part of it, but also aware with an author’s precision of the small dramas. I think one of the nicest things about writing is that it sharpens observation and opens eyes to the world around. And those moments do not have to be dramatic to be memorable – this happens all over, these little shared seconds, and yet to step aside and see them for what they are, be able to make me see them all the way over here – it is a complete gift. Thank you.

  2. Jayne~ Thanks. Glad you liked it. And even prouder that I could make you see the moment too ;-)

  3. Funny how things like that happen! I hate thunderstorms because I'm always afraid they'll spawn tornadoes.

    We moved back to Iowa in 1998. Wouldn't you know that April-May they set a record for tornado warnings? Every single night we had a severe thunderstorm that spawned tornadoes...and some were too close for comfort. Way to feed my paranoia!

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Aww, what a great story. As a Florida resident I know those out-of-nowhere storms very well. As long as I'm not driving, I love those storms. :)

    Thanks for sharing.

  5. Sometimes these make for the best writing, the most engaging stories ... those passing moments of time, a slice of life, a blink, yes. But their brevity somehow makes them even more real.

  6. Lovely. It's those small moments of connection that so often inspire the deepest work.

  7. Life is full of these "in the blink of an eye" moments. Captured moments, I call them because like you, my writer brain is always taking notes. I love exploring the story possibilities...handsome man would make a great character :))

    Hope your Mother's Day was magical!

  8. You described it so perfectly it felt real to me. I love a good storm, but I've never been in one that was so bad it scared me.

    I love those blink-in-time moments! :-)

  9. Beautifully written and so true! I'm always amazed my how connected we can feel to a complete stranger when we just get a hint of their story. I've forgotten many high school classmates but there are strangers who will live in my memories forever!

  10. This was a wonderful post! I really enjoyed the story and you told it so well.

  11. Hi Wendy,

    I love the rains - doesn't matter where I am, what I am doing; it doesn't even matter whether I can find a shelter or not. Your reflection made me stand right beside you in that store:-) Those fifteen minutes were indeed beautiful.

    Warm Regards,

  12. Portia~ I know what you mean about remembering some strangers. When I was in college, there was a guy who walked into the gym one day with is girlfriend (I was with my boyfriend), and this guy's smile lit me up so completely that even though I never saw him again, I've always remembered his face.

  13. Thanks everyone for your beautiful comments. Nice to know my imagery can work such magic.

  14. A lightning to pause a moment and strangers become friends! I loved it :) your imagery was so strong, I could picture everyone… Thank you for sharing such a lovely story!

  15. This was a slice of heaven and you shared it so beautifully. I love moments like this, the kind that connect strangers into one story. So good!

  16. I love LOVE your grande dramatic exit! You go with your awesome self.

    Thanks for sharing.

  17. Wendy--Thanks for stopping by my blog and offering your comforting words. It's a bit of a struggle right now to read and respond to everyone. But thank you for sharing with me...