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Chesterton — The Meaningful Traveler


The meaning of rain

by Steve Brock on October 14, 2010

When is the last time you really noticed an individual raindrop?

I’m on a flight from Seattle to Denver. As we roll back from the gate, I look out the plane window into the early morning gloom and – surprise! – it’s raining.  I rarely pay attention to rain up here in the Pacific Northwest where moss is practically a fashion statement and weather reporters have at least a half dozen ways to describe precipitation. But today, I watch the rain. Or more precisely, I watch it change direction.

As we taxi to the runway, the rain rolls down the window as it always does, a vertical display of gravity showcasing its familiar pull. Yet as we gain speed for takeoff, the water rivulets begin to flow sideways, like the wet squiggly lines of an aquatic seismometer or liquid lie detector. I watch the water charting its way across the window in a readout I don’t understand but marvel at anyway as if I’ve never seen water on glass before.

And then the plane lifts off and up. Gravity exerts its dominance as the water’s direction changes yet again to a diagonal flow; a continuous 30 degree stream like bear claw marks in an angled slash across and down a tree trunk. And then, before I’m ready for my intimate water spectacle to end, we are climbing through the cloud cover. My streams break apart into a collection of bits and pieces of grouped droplets. Those tiny balls of water tenaciously hold their grip on the glass for seconds. Then they too are rolling, sputtering and bouncing off the window heading back toward the rear of the plane.

Somewhere thousands of feet below me, my small window companions will soon be doing the equivalent of liquid belly flops on the top of someone else’s windshield or umbrella. That is if they ever made it that far before vaporizing like a half-spoken compliment.

What does this mean? Although The Meaningful Traveler looks at ways of deriving or discovering meaning through travel, not every moment or experience has to mean something, at least not at that point in time. Sometimes we can simply enjoy the experience and leave it at that.

Which is what I probably should do. But I have this bad habit with jokes, scabs, mosquito bites, grumpy people and curious phenomenon of not letting them be. So humor me here as I look for the meaning of today’s experience.

I think that it is no coincidence that I observed the water running across the window only minutes after reading this passage from Ronald Rolheiser’s wonderful book, The Shattered Lantern:

“G.K. Chesterton once commented that our perennial spiritual and psychological task is to learn to look at things familiar until they become unfamiliar again.” (p. 98)

I think that line captures magnificently the heart of meaningful travel. But it also reminds me of my own need to constantly re-look, reassess and take the time to see what I know as if I knew it not. Like rain.

Perhaps the water streams on the window exemplified this need to see anew. But maybe, the phenomenon of rain, surface tension, air speed, gravity and the fact that I’m in a window seat today rather than my customary aisle seat all came together minutes ago just as a small gift of wonder that needs no explanation.

In such moments, it may be that our response does not require examination but merely gratitude. God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. Today I just happened to notice it. There’s meaning enough in that alone.

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