The Smell of Rain
“I smell the coming of rain,” Granddaddy said as we walked through the park on this breezy, cool fall day. I gave him a weird look thinking that was an odd statement. While I thought about that strange comment, I couldn’t help but notice that Granddaddy was still in pretty good shape for an old guy. Although, I’ve only occasionally seen him over the years, it seems like he hasn’t changed much over time. I don’t know how old he is or even when his birthday is, but I’m certain he’s a lot older than he looks. He still has most of his hair. Its grey with a tight military style cut. His hair gives him that look of wisdom, kind of majestic even. His body is lean and still muscular. As I’m studying him, surprisingly I notice for the first time that in some ways his physique is kind of like mine, but just an older version.
“You want to know why I chose the park for us to spend this special day together.” He asked.
“Why?” I asked.
He replied, “Because this is the perfect place for some very important lessons that I must teach you today.”
“Lessons? Lessons for what?” I asked.
“You’ll see.” He said. “But once you learn these lessons, you’ll become a better leader. People will look up to you. You’ll make the world a better place for yourself and everyone else you come in contact with. Furthermore, as a leader, in one way or another you’ll be compensated handsomely for making this place a better world.”
“That sounds good.” I said.
Granddaddy continued. “The first of these very important lessons is represented by this walk in the park. The lesson is that the simple things in life are the best things in life. Take time in your busy life to enjoy a relaxing walk in the park. Pause to appreciate a sunrise or a sunset! Take a moment to admire the flight of a bird! Cherish and never forget that first kiss from your girlfriend. Never allow life to get so complicated that you end up negotiating your values and not living up to your highest potential. Never forget the miracle that you truly are and you’ll find the strength to always do what is right!”
I knew my Granddaddy was somehow right. Even though I rarely saw him, and didn’t know if I fully trusted him, my gut was telling me that he was right. He always seemed to have that aura, authority and wisdom of an old soldier. Granddaddy had a way of knowing things and being right. However, I still wondered how anyone, even a former World War Two fighter pilot, could smell the coming of rain? Also, if this rain were coming, where would we go for shelter so this coming of the rain wouldn’t soak us?
Well, he must have read my mind because he replied, “Okay. I’ve weathered many storms in my life much worse than this coming rain. Furthermore, I know you’re only 16-years old today, but I have the feeling, that you too, have already weathered many storms worse than this coming rain.”
How did he know? I wondered.
He continued, “As a matter of fact, as unusual as it may sound, I love rain storms now. Maybe someday you will too. Rainstorms remind me of the awesome power of my Creator. Rainstorms don’t discriminate. They soak us all. But, regardless of how many dark storm clouds appear in the sky, or how soaked we become, the ever enduring power of the sun indiscriminately dries us all off. Rain also implies that life is a miracle, as well as a cycle, sort of like the movie Lion King and the circle of life. Getting caught in the rain reminds me of how strong and how weak we are. Furthermore, it also stresses what’s important and what’s trivial in life. Whenever things seem overwhelming, just look up at the sky and suddenly your problems will seem small, no matter what the weather.”
Once again, I didn’t fully understand what my Granddaddy was saying, but I knew somehow he was right. He always seemed to be right. But regardless, I still wondered how my mostly absent Granddaddy knew that my young life had been pretty turbulent!
I did have a rough life. School wasn’t easy for me. Home was always loud and chaotic, and so was my neighborhood. But that was all right with me, because I figured that’s just life, and it made me stronger. Besides, even though I didn’t have the perfect life, I knew I still had a better life than many of my friends. At least I had my sports and a great girlfriend to give me something solid in my life to hold on to.
My girlfriend is the best thing in my life. She is tall, very athletic and beautiful. She has big brown walnut-like eyes and long flowing hair that is brown with blond highlights that makes her look like one of those music divas, but without the attitude. She is awesome at basketball and track. She is just a great person with a heart of gold. She’s perfect even if she does always seem to be losing her keys. I have to admit it’s so cute to watch her fumble through her pocketbook looking for them. After about two or three failed attempts, she gets frustrated and tips her whole pocketbook upside down onto the table, and presto, like magic, there are the keys just lying on the table amidst the pile of rubble she calls “all her stuff”.
As I said earlier, I am very fortunate to have my girlfriend. However, unlike me, many of my friends have nothing solid in their lives to hold on to. I suppose their lives are similar to constant storms with dark skies that they can never get a break from. The sun doesn’t shine much in their world. Thus, many of my friends have bitterly turned away from school, sports and even the law. Instead my friends have now turned to drugs, crime and fighting on the streets. Sometimes I wonder what happened to our youthful fun and innocence. We used to have such a great time and now everybody in my neighborhood seems angry. People are always fighting in my neighborhood and every where else I go too. I just wish it could some how all magically just stop. Why can’t we all go back to those youthful fill days? We used to play sports and pretend that we were one of our super heroes hitting a home run or scoring a touchdown, or even sinking that winning basket.
Even though I wish we could live in this utopia protected by youth and sports where bad things didn’t happen, I must admit, even during those youthful innocent days, sometimes I did fight on the streets too. Unlike my friends from my neighborhood and school, who lack any direction or leadership, I have continued to learn additional leadership and discipline through sports that they have not because I stuck it out and they didn’t recognize the value in my perseverance. I channeled my aggression and anger that we were all feeling back into the sports rather than at others or out onto the streets.
It thrilled me that it is legal to hit the enemy as hard as I could on the football field and that the police wouldn’t arrest me. It is amazing that people praise me and admire me for intensely brawling on the wrestling mat in the school gymnasium without suspending me. Even the principal watches and congratulates me during these competitions of combat. With this outlet of sports, I quickly found myself, and all of this energy, anger and intensity I possess being funneled into becoming very successful in sports. Additionally, it became increasingly easier for me not to fight on the streets. Now I harness that energy and intensity and put it to good use by putting up a good fight in sports. In addition, today I know I’m only 16 years old, but I have already learned to channel my anger and to use it to punish the weights in the weight room. I push those weights around with ferocity rarely seen in young teenagers, and thus I have already developed incredible strength rarely seen in 16 year-old schoolboys. This freaky strength has enabled me to keep up with the older boys on the varsity level in both football and wrestling.
Playing sports has helped keep me out of trouble with the police. Moreover, sports have caused this weird phenomenon in my life. People are looking at me differently now. People no longer look at me like I’m trash from the streets or the boy from the dysfunctional family. They no longer look at me like I was some kind of dangerous thug. Instead people respect me. Strangers say hi to me everywhere I go. Some say they saw me at the game or in the newspaper winning another football game or wrestling match. People are always congratulating me now. Once a kid even asked me for my autograph! Sometimes I feel like a little mini-celebrity. It just blows my mind that I get all this positive attention because I put up good fights in athletics rather than on the streets! This mini-celebrity status has me thinking that people are always watching me. I better choose the nobler path on all my endeavors or people will be disappointed in me.
Wow, life is strange! Sometimes my thoughts wander and I start thinking really deep like all those old great philosophers that I read about. Sometimes I get into these trances of deep thought and I make these weird paradoxical connections. For example, I see the adults at school telling kids not to be angry and not to fight. However, in contrast they praise me for putting up a good fight in sports. Furthermore, I think that some of my street fighting and some of my anger from my stormy life have been beneficial to me. I mean, how else can I explain making the varsity wrestling team when I was just a freshman without any previous formal training.
There is a big difference between a fourteen-year-old and an eighteen-year-old boy. Fourteen-year-old boys are usually significantly over matched and can’t compete against eighteen-year-olds. Fourteen-years-olds with no formal training just don’t make the varsity team! But I did! Some people say I’m just a natural, and maybe they’re right, but I know there is more to it. I think some of it comes from fighting on the streets. I’m going to stretch it a little bit here, I can’t help wonder if in some ways I am living a similar life to the glorious ancient gladiators of the famed Roman Coliseum. I wonder if Roman adults told these warriors of Rome not to be angry and not to fight while they were growing up. Don’t get me wrong, I know we need order in this world, but I’m just thinking deep again like those philosophers. I think it’s a bit ironic that we’re always told as kids not to fight, yet we have prize fighters from the past and present that are highly praised and even paid handsomely because of their ability to fight.
However, I realize now, that I couldn’t continue on the violent path many of my friends chose. My decision to focus on sports is much more productive than fighting on the streets and is keeping me out of trouble. It’s too bad that more of my friends didn’t choose sports!
I guess I’m also pretty fortunate to be spending time with my Granddaddy today. My birthday falls on November 30th, so it fits perfectly right between the end of the fall sports season and the beginning of the winter sports season. This perfect timing has given me a chance to get to know my mostly absent Granddaddy a little bit better. To tell you the truth, I’m surprised that he is even around today or had the time to even call me. It’s weird and unlike him. Even though I don’t know him that well, he always seemed like a nice man. I hope everything is all right with him. It’s odd that he wanted to meet so urgently with me today and teach me these important secrets; despite the wishes of my pops. This has scared me a little bit. I hope he isn’t going to tell me anything crazy like he is dying or something like that. Well, he’s probably too busy to die or do anything crazy like that. You know how those overachievers are. They’re too busy and ain’t’ got time to die.
Like my Granddaddy, I have also created a very busy life. I go to school, play sports and work part-time at the gas station on school nights after practice, and the entire day of Sunday. Saturday is always game day! It seems like I’m busy every minute of every day. Sometimes I wish there were more hours in the day because I have to admit I don’t have much time to do everything I want to do, like my homework. Many times I either wing it or just don’t do it. I know that’s wrong, but I seem to get by, and I somehow manage to pass my classes. In the end, I guess that’s all that really matters anyway, right?
Now, going back to my birthday, November 30th is a lucky day for me. Not only was I born on that day, but also my birthday falls on the perfect day; at least for my sports and me. If it had fallen on just about any other day, it would have been during one of the sport seasons. I don’t know if I would have had any time to spend with my Granddaddy. I would have been too busy. So this is one of those rare times when both, Granddaddy is around and I have a couple of days off with nothing to do after school for a few hours before I go to work at the gas station. In some ways these couple days off from sports between the seasons feels like a mini-vacation. So again, if my birthday had landed on another date, I wouldn’t have had anytime for a walk in the park with my Granddaddy or these lessons he says he must teach me through this coming storm.
I guess not having time runs in the family. My Granddaddy didn’t have any time to spend with my pops when he was just a young boy. I don’t feel sorry for my pops though. Pops isn’t innocent here either. I guess in some ways neither am I in regards to spending time with people. My pops repeated the cycle and doesn’t really spend anytime with me just like his father didn’t spend any time with him. I guess it’s all right that my pops doesn’t spend time with me because I’m too busy for him anyways! In fact, I really don’t have any time to spend with anyone! I don’t have time for my Granddaddy, or my friends. I’m not even around much for my girlfriend, and that just drives her crazy! From generation to generation, it seems like the cycle just repeats itself in my family. I wonder if this is also happening on the larger scale within our society and families just aren’t spending time together like they used to. Oh, there goes my philosophical side again!
Isn’t it weird how life works out sometimes? How the same things just cycle around in different kinds of ways. These patterns happen with just a slight variation, and most of us never even notice them. We’re right in the middle of it. We’re too busy being ethnocentric and we can’t see it. We’re all stuck in this quagmire. This mysterious invisible cycle has us all wrapped and trapped. I wonder if this rhythm fits into that cycle of life that my Granddaddy mentioned earlier when he was talking about the storm, and the smell of the coming rain, as well as, that circle of life from The Lion King.
I don’t know exactly what happened between pops and my Granddaddy. But I do know that I rarely get to see Granddaddy. My pops is always angry. My mom says that his father was never around when he needed him. She says that his father was always too busy working towards success to spend any time with pops. Mom told me not to be like Granddaddy. He neglected his kids in order to spend more time at the office. Granddaddy missed out on a lot and so did his kids. Mom believes this is why pops is always angry. Because of this he drinks a lot and he hasn’t achieved all that he could have, and he is abusive.
She feels success comes from inside you and what you contribute, not what you receive from the outside world. Happiness and success doesn’t come from titles, buildings, or even reputations, like Granddaddy’s. Happiness doesn’t come from what pops is doing either. Pops is rebelling against his father and is hard on his own family. Happiness and success comes from the peace and love you feel inside. Mom believes many people have the formula for success wrong. She says many people chase the outer-world rather than their inner-world. She believes very few people understand what Jesus was really saying when he told us the Kingdom of Heaven was within each of us. God bless mom! She really is the rock and bread of this family!
After all this time pops is still rebelling against his father. Now, that makes me wonder. Are adults really just big kids with emotions and delicate feelings that can be easily hurt? I’m just 16-years old today, but it seems to me that my pops is the pot calling the kettle black. As I mentioned earlier, my pops never seems to be around for me. Just like his father wasn’t for him. However, there is a difference here. I don’t mind pops not being around much, because when he does get home late, usually after a few beers from the bar, he is usually angry, drunk, mean and abusive. He often hits my brother my mother and me. I don’t know why he hits us. What did I do to make him so angry? I’m just a kid and I had nothing to do with the fact that his father ignored him? Maybe he thinks I’m an underachiever like himself! Maybe the thought of me as an underachiever just drives him crazy, because it’s too painful for him to look at me! Maybe when he sees me it’s like looking in the mirror and seeing his own unsuccessful reflection. It forces him to face a painful reality. Or possibly it’s the opposite pain. Maybe he sees my Granddaddy when he glances at me and that drives him crazy too! To tell you the truth, I don’t know what he sees when he looks at me or if he even looks at me. I am not sure if I’m an underachiever or an overachiever. I think if I had to choose, I’d say I’m an overachiever. I know that I have a burning desire not to be like pops, but rather to achieve success.
It makes me angry to think about this, but if I had a real dad, I would have some real direction. My life would be a little less stormy. I would be a lot further along in life than I am now. Thus, when the time is right, I would be better trained and equipped to be a good Dad to my own kids. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I know I will be a better Dad to my kids than he was to me and my Granddaddy was to him. I will break the cycle! I will be the one that everyone in this future family tree looks up to as the one that changed it all, the hero!
Unfortunately, pops isn’t this man. He’s an angry man, and perhaps in some ways I am angry too. I guess that’s just normal. Maybe we all need to learn how to control it. I see anger everywhere. It’s in my home, in my neighborhood and I always see my friends’ parents yelling at them. My teachers and coaches are constantly yelling at the students and athletes. I guess that’s just the way the world is, loud and chaotic and I’m getting used to it. However, I can’t help but think that the entire world isn’t like that. As I’m walking with my Granddaddy today through the park, anticipating this coming of the storm, I notice that Granddaddy doesn’t seem to be part of that angry world. Maybe he’s not part of it. Possibly he is part of another world that most of us just don’t get. We don’t know where it is, or how to get there, or if it really even exists.
If it is real, then maybe that’s where my Granddaddy is when he’s not around; he’s not around for me anyway. He’s not around for my family. He’s not around for my pops. Maybe he is there, at that place. Where ever that mysterious place may be!
If he does go to this place, or to this other world, then where is it? I wonder who else is there and what they talk about. What do they do there? Is this other world open to anyone? Can I go there, or is it closed off to people like my friends and me from the neighborhood? Is this other world or place like some crazy secret society or cult? What is the weather like there? Is it always sunny or do they also have storms like this one that Granddaddy can smell coming?
Well, I guess I’m just philosophizing again and these are all just crazy thoughts. But all kidding and craziness aside, sometimes it seems like my Granddaddy isn’t from the crazy, loud, chaotic world that I live in. But I’m sure my chaotic world is nothing compared to the crazy world he must have lived in long ago when he was fighting Hitler in World War Two. Somehow he gained something invaluable from that experience of fighting in World War Two; something the rest of us can’t have or even explain. It seems that he just knows and senses things that others don’t. And I wonder what he knows, and what are the secrets that he is keeping from the rest of us? How is his demeanor and countenance always so peaceful, self-assured and confident? Will he invite me into this peaceful world? I am also wondering where we will go to get out of this rainstorm that he smells coming!