Summer Storm

In the summer, in Manhattan, giant storm systems sweep through and create havoc—they rip off tree branches in front of your eyes, send trash flying through the air, turn every umbrella the wrong way out, and turn the gutters into rivers.

They are violent and powerful, but they stay for only a fraction of an hour. I’m sure there’s an easily procured meteorological explanation for this, but I do not know it. It may be the drop of pressure over the ocean draws the wind out to sea faster (is that a real thing?), it may have to do with tides and ocean currents I know nothing about. But it may be simply that a strip of land one and a half miles wide on a good day cannot be stormy for long.

The downpours are an intimate ritual: as you walk down the street you look up along with other pedestrians to not the gathering storm clouds, great cumulus beasts of green and grey—the ten wise virgins among us, having remembered their umbrellas, begin to deploy them—the wind picks up in gusts, the pressure drops (or rises?), you bones quiver, and there’s a magnificent hush.

The first drops fall so inconspicuously they camouflage with the drip of air conditioners of pavement, but they coalesce and rally until the raindrops begin a steady patter, splashing up off the pavement. Their gentle warning to take shelter ratchets up to an assault of sharp droplets that pierce through any layer of clothing covering your skin. The sort of rain that means business with the earth, that comes to drench and soak, not caress or kiss.

As the rain picks up its tempo, Manhattanites scatter under awnings, into subway or bus stations, under trees or restaurant canopies. Thunder cracks. I drive my CitiBike up under a prodigious, rigid outcropping from a luxury high rise on West 110th Street. There’s enough room for at least twenty other rained out refugees, so I put up my mask, but no one else joins me. A couple sits under Congregation Ramath Orah’s long entrance portico across from me, a brave soul waits out the maelstrom under his umbrella in line for H-Mart. A woman runs past me, carrying her face shield, another runner followers her.

The wind drives the rain nearly horizontal. I wave to the doorman through the glass behind me, he smiles benevolently. In a rainstorm, those with extra space are munificent. A Honda sloshes to a stop at the Broadway light. The M4 bus picks up passengers. None alight. There is no other traffic.

In the quiet between the raindrops, in the streets flooded with rainwater not traffic, an intimacy develops. I take time to admire the curls of molding on the exterior of Congregation Ramath Orah, and its oversized stained glass. I note the cornerstone on the building still advertising the West Side Unitarian Church, which met there once upon a time. I note the sort of supersessionism in reverse. A city is a living organism. Some things live, some things die. There’s a remnant of an old advertisement on the building that shadows the synagogue, dyed into the brick. Everything old is repurposed into the present.

The rain gives the city fifteen minutes to stop. There’s a peace, a slowed heartbeat as the city takes a breath, goes on pause.

And in the pause, I have time to love it. I have a moment to really see it, to notice its strange details, each one a time capsule, and love all those.

This city is alive, broken, and washed in the rain so, so beautiful. I love it like it is Paris and London and Dublin and Damascus, and it is all of those and more.

As soon as the height of the rain’s pounding and battering slows down even a fraction, intrepid souls who refuse interruption venture out under plastic bags and newspapers on their planned trajectory.

The system rips through the city, makes wind tunnels of the streets, and then in her wake leaves quiet, peace. The city reawakens, refreshed. The sun begins to break through the clouds. The rain slows down to a small patter. The sun grows brighter and brighter, until it gilds the whisper-thin clouds, mild and radiant, showing off the gentleness of her blues, the softness of once-threatening clouds, and the brilliance of sunlight in a world washed by rain.

Your neighbors look brighter too, fresher and younger, as you emerge from your hiding places like the small burrowing mammals we are, and back out into our city.

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