I was just happy to be near them. They talked about things I didn’t quite understand but I tried to temper my responses appropriately so that they might think for just a few moments that I was cool enough to be in their presence.
All of my cousins are older than me. My younger sister and I were the last of our generation. There was a mix of boy cousins and girl cousins and just by being older than us, they were automatically cool and hip and examples of what we desperately wanted to be at their age. At some level I thought I would catch up to them someday – that we would eventually be equals. So when they asked us if we wanted to go with them as they walked to the nearby grocery store, I had no choice but to say yes.
We were all gathered at our aunt and uncle’s house in Shreveport, Louisiana from our disparate home states. As our parents sat around and reminisced and laughed and talked, all the cousins went outside to explore and do ‘cool things’. I couldn’t even be certain what it was that we were doing, only that I wanted to be nearby for their teenager-ness to rub off on me somehow.
At their invitation to walk to the little grocery store in the middle of residential Shreveport in the 1970’s, I followed without hesitation. It wasn’t until halfway through the walk that I began to worry about my choice. I was at that liminal age of being too young to make my own decisions, needing to get parental permission for stepping outside my parent’s watchful eye and yet also on the verge of being old enough to handle small decision-making on my own. As we walked further and further away from my aunt’s house, I began to get more and more worried about whether I was doing the right thing or not. Would Mom and Dad be mad if they came outside and I wasn’t there? Would they worry about where I had taken my little sister, Anna? Would they be sad? Concerned? My thoughts raced with pending doom as each step took us further and further away from my parents’ watchful eye.
Having arrived at the market we were just about ready to go inside when my older cousin, McKy, shouted for everyone to look. He was pointing up the street at the oddity of seeing a sheet of rain coming right toward us down the street. I can still so clearly see the sight in my mind’s eye, some 40+ years later. The rain was compact and ominous looking and it was headed straight toward us like a biblical swarm of locusts, ready to devour and conquer. Everyone ooo’d and ahh’d as we started running as fast as we could, quickly ducking into Samson’s Market to take cover.
It was a heady convergence of feelings and sounds. As we all sighed for relief that we had made it inside, the rain began to beat steadily on the roof overhead. I was certain my parents would be worried now. What had they done that I would inadvertently cause them such misery and concern?? Why had I chosen to leave their periphery and take my little sister with me?? I was selfish and never once considered their feelings as I tried to ‘keep up’ with the freedom and confidence I saw in my cousins.
To my knowledge, my parents never even knew we were gone. And had they come outside to check on us, I feel certain they would not have worried, knowing we were safe with our older cousins. But of course that reasoning only makes sense to me now as an adult. As a child I was certain I was causing them irreparable mental anguish.
As the rain beat harder and harder on the roof above us, the adrenaline was kicking in for everyone. My cousins wondered out loud to each other how we were going to get home and whether or not this was a quick southern rainstorm or if it would be sticking around awhile. Should we wait it out or take our chances running back in the downpour? WAIT IT OUT?!, I wondered to myself. How LONG would we be waiting?! My snap decision to tag along was quickly spinning out of my control.
Inside the small market with its smoothly worn wooden planked floors that creaked with each step and it’s rows of neatly, albeit slightly dusty, cans of vegetables and peach wedges, the rain beat down on us as if absolutely no insulation existed in the corrugated roof above us. Anna stood silently, holding my hand, looking to me as if under the same spell I was experiencing with my cousins. I was looking to them for answers as she looked up to me for direction in this confusing situation.
Suddenly I couldn’t take it any longer. The pressure to be perceived as cool enough to hang out with these paragons of hip-ness. The internal conflict of upsetting my parents. The grave responsibility of making sure my younger sister was safe. The pounding rain, the running and ducking for cover as the sheets of doom barreled toward us. I began to cry.
Carol Jeanne saw me first and came straight over to see if I was okay. I couldn’t articulate a reason as to why I was crying. I hadn’t figured it out for myself, much less be able to express it to anyone else. I just knew everything seemed wrong and overwhelming and I didn’t know what to do. I felt stymied and incapable of making a right decision. She valiantly tried to calm me down as we made our escape plan while the rain outside began to lighten up its onslaught of doom.
We ran most of the way home. In retrospect I am sure Greg didn’t want his perfectly feathered hair to get messed up and Tricia was probably concerned that her hot curlers would have to be plugged in again to remedy whatever the rain was taking away. Make-up would have to be reapplied and dresses would have to be changed. But I ran with all my might toward the safety that my parents would offer, if not also the retribution for my decision to leave without their permission in the first place. I didn’t care, I’d take the discipline, as long as they knew Anna and I were okay and they could stop wringing their hands with worry. (Exaggeration seemed to be an early trait of mine that has never left me.)
In the end, no one was hurt. No one got in trouble. Talk of seeing the oncoming rain was bantered around from circle to circle, teenagers animatedly describing the scene to our listening parents. Absolutely nothing bad came from the whole ordeal.
As an adult, that oncoming rain shower has lurked in the darker places of my mind. When choices are too many and a decision needs to be reached… When I am responsible for the care of someone and the task ahead seems too large, I am suddenly grounded in the middle of that dirty Louisiana road, frozen still in terror as I weigh the choice to turn and run back to the safety of my parents, or to continue to run straight ahead with the crowd. When the paralysis of choices makes me inexplicably cry out, I have learned to turn to someone older, wiser, who will calm my fears, help me work through my feelings and perform the holy act of telling me everything will be okay. I can then run to safety or spread my wings and push the limits all the while knowing that there are those around me that love me more than I can understand in my moment of initial panic. It is in facing those pivotal moments of doom that we learn that there is within us the ability to choose correctly. Sometimes the decision can be made in an instant. Other times it takes some internal processing, prayerful discernment and seeking outside counsel. There are times in life that we do not know how to do This Thing, but there is something within us that does. The older we get, the more we trust that internal voice.
When faced with the choice to run from the oncoming rain or to stand and dance within it, no one can make the decision for you but thankfully there are those around us that model the correct behavior and ultimately there is a voice within us, telling us to high tail it and run or to throw our head back and let the rain wash over us. Trusting that voice is what makes aging so exciting and fun. Practicing the elegance of kindness to ourselves and to others is what unites us as a human race that is motivated by unrelenting, bountiful and an all-encompassing laugh-in-the-face-of-looming-rain impermeable grace.