I must have had a rain jacket, too, though I also remember my mother saying something about how plastic rain jackets just make you sweaty, so perhaps not. I know I pined away for a shiny purple jacket and matching boots, like the ones that Robyn Kelleher wore. Still, even if I had said boots and jacket, I was taught that you carried an umbrella when the forecast called for rain; we weren't like those people we saw running or even walking down the street, their white Keds oozing water at every step. Rain smelled like fear: you could get sick, being out in the elements, getting your head wet. So, like our parents, we protected ourselves, joined the ranks of umbrella-wielding adults. My brother, conformist that he is, even asked for a new one last Christmas.
I don't know when it started, but some time ago I began to bend this rule, little by little, letting myself be rained on. For a while, I carried the umbrella, but I resisted opening it in a light drizzle, as long as I was wearing something I didn't care much about. Soon, I was throwing caution to the wind when the forecast was uncertain: sometimes I'd carry the umbrella, sometimes not. Sometimes, I'd leave it behind on purpose, as long as it wasn't currently raining when I left the house or my car. And finally, I began to walk--and later, even run--in the rain, knowing full well that I was going to get wet. It was an act of resistance, or perhaps even defiance, this refusing the protection of my umbrella.
I was thankful for the umbrella later, when I found myself navigating the monsoon from my office to the parking garage. I stepped gingerly around puddles, trying to hold my suit up out of the wet mess, knowing that it was probably fruitless.
Driving north towards the CSA pickup and home, I mentally rehearsed the week's share. Eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, peppers, scallions, beets ... and beans. Which, if I wanted them, I would have to pick myself, in the rain, which continued to fall steadily.
There were few places to park in the field that weren't riddled with mud holes, and by the time I turned off the car, I was having doubts about the beans. I left my umbrella behind, on purpose. It would be a quick trip.
But when I got to the CSA distribution center, I realized that the zucchini and eggplant were already gone (that's what I get for working and agreeing to an hour commute, I guess). And there are only so many carrots one family can eat.
Fleetingly, I considered the umbrella. I'll just be a minute, I thought. And I need my hands for other things: one to pick, one to hold the bag.
Plastic bag perched atop my head, I slogged up the hill to the far field, where the bean plants sagged under the weight of the storm and the ripe beans. As I began working my way down the row, lifting the leaves gently and tugging at the fruit, lifting and tugging again, I felt the back of my shirt start to glue itself to my skin. Then my shorts, to my thighs. The mud had already made its way over the top of my shoes, and was working itself into the soles of my feet. Bent, head toward the ground, I felt the rain trickling down my hair and neck, and tasted it running into my mouth, wiped it away from my eyes. My body began to melt away into the earth and sky; there were only the bean plants, and the rain.
In some ways, giving up the umbrella was like giving up protection. But in other ways, it was giving up the boundary, giving up fear. It was only water. I'd dry off.
Have you ever tried to protect yourself, only later realizing that the very thing protecting you was preventing you from being present, or from feeling something that changed you? And do you use umbrellas, or are you a "run between the drops" kind of person?