Growing up in Atlanta, I never believed I lived close to water. The nearest ocean is hundreds of miles away. The Chattahoochee River flows by the city, but it is gentle enough that you can float down it in a tube. Georgia has no natural lakes. My most common experiences with water involved creeks, ponds, and lakes-by-way-of-dammed-rivers, which essentially seemed like extra-large ponds.
In my adulthood, I continued living far from water. My longest stints near oceans were a few months total in India and the Turks & Caicos Islands. Even in Japan, where most people live within sight of an ocean, I lived in a city equidistant from both coasts—as far from water as was possible on an island.
I remember learning in geography class about rainy seasons and monsoons. My immediate mental image for them was a standard deluging rainstorm, one typical of my home, with National Geographic-worthy torrents drenching the land.
Decades later, after living abroad, I visited Tucson during its monsoon season. Before my arrival, I had envisioned sheets of rain in the desert. I quickly learned, however, that the city’s definition of monsoon is a generous interpretation. Rather than hours of heavy rain, the city endured a light, 20-minute daily rainshower. Oh. I thought, that’s it? That needs a label?
That experience made me realize that although I never spent much time near water, clearly water in the form of rain made a profound impression—one so pervasive that I couldn’t see outside it. I never considered that in some places, what I consider an inconsequential amount of rain is meaningful enough to name.
So I revised my stance: I had always lived far not from water, but far from bodies of water. And once I had a new perspective, I suddenly saw how my life’s most prevalent form of water has influenced me.
When I first visited the Pacific Northwest a few years ago, I had again braced myself for Southern rain, and like my experience in Tucson, I quickly changed my perspective. In Seattle, I was puzzled by the fuss over such quiet, soft rain, which my friends assured me was normal and lasted all year except summer. I had the same reaction: That’s all? I consider Seattle not as a place with overwhelming rain, but rather a place of overwhelming overcast weather (yes, with small amounts of rain). Those conditions are not the same.
In fact, Atlanta has more annual precipitation, though without a rainy season. Rain can come in any variation, at any time. Sometimes fog is just thick enough for gravity to coax water out, barely perceptible. In summer, this mist feels like you have always just stepped out of a shower into a steamy bathroom. In winter, it somehow penetrates my layers of clothes and clings to my skin. Drizzles in the warm weather can be welcome relief, though their wake often seems to ramp the heat up as the water evaporates. I take this type of rain for granted; mostly it feels like a bother because it’s enough to require an umbrella or raincoat, but not enough to hold my attention to watch it.
Quite frequently, rain comes in torrents, which can last anywhere from a few minutes to hours and even the better part of days. Certainly very inconvenient, but I’ve always appreciated the force unleashed and the way nature must surrender. Animals take cover; trees stay.
My favorites are Southern thunderstorms—a similar range in duration as the rainstorms, with more inspiration in the form of lightning and thunder. Some of my earliest memories are watching lighting, counting the time gap between it and thunder.
“The cure for anything is salt water—sweat, tears, or the sea.”
~ Isak Dinesen
I have had all of these three, in different amounts. The sea has been the rarest, certainly. Sweat much more frequently. But the most prevalent has always been tears. And now, after so many years, I finally understand that rain, particularly Southern rain in all its forms, has shown me the many ways I can cry.
Our culture generally deems tears inappropriate, outside of a few acceptable circumstances. If you’re moved to tears outside those situations, restrain yourself. Yet rain, like all water, is impossible to refuse once in its path. As usual, nature is the perfect teacher—in this case that resistance, truly, is futile. What would happen if clouds resisted releasing their rain?
Just as rain has always been one of the defining features of my home climate, crying has always been a defining feature of my personality. My home has no rainy season nor particular quality to its rain. Likewise, I don’t have a particular time to cry, nor a particular quality to the tears. Sometimes frequently and overwhelmingly. Sometimes sparsely and barely perceptibly. No particular occasions, though some are common: weddings, funerals, disappointments, frustrations. But just as often, if not more so, I can cry at joy or contentment. While looking at art or listening to music. While singing. While sharing moments of connection via conversation, art, music. While in frenzied busy-ness. While in silence.
My body, of water, can cry in many ways. Sometimes tears trickle in a slow trail, much like the mist that is coaxed out of fog. Other times they seem to chill onto my face, in the icy cold of loneliness. Sometimes they are heated and angry, with the fire of a thunderstorm.
But rain always reminds me to welcome those moments, even though they can be uncomfortable. Embarrassing. Frustrating. Even shameful. Particularly with an audience, even of one. Even if I welcome my own crying, it can still trigger others.
But so what? We need to let ourselves rain—we are water beings, after all. My recent visit to Rwanda connected me to a man who shared his homeland’s expression, “heart like a river.” Like rivers and rain, tears are nourishment and catharsis. I want to be mySelf, to stay authentic, even when that reality challenges me or others. Crying has always felt like one more form of expression, no more remarkable than any others. The tears, like rain, require surrender.
There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.
They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers
of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.
~ Washington Irving
SK © 2014