When you hear the steady cadence of rain on your rooftop, watch it cascade down your window, witness the way the plants and grass seem to bloom before your eyes in celebration – even as the rainclouds turn noontime into twilight – do you feel a deep and unshakable longing for those things that held you together when the rains fell in torrents for weeks at a time, and the world as you knew it seemed to have stopped in its tracks?
This is how I’m feeling right now, as I write this piece amidst a rainstorm that is puny compared to what we Filipinos know rainstorms to be. Outside, the traffic is a mess and people must be cold to their bones with the onslaught of the freezing rain of winter. No matter. I banish real-world concerns from my thoughts as I snuggle in the warmth of a blanket and a cup of piping hot chocolate.
When I was growing up in the University of the Philippines (UP) campus, the coming of the monsoon rains brought squeals of delight because it meant we no longer had to swelter in the humidity and we could run outside and let the cool raindrops soak us to the skin. Those were the days before acid rain, when our elders were only too willing to let us go out and play because it was supposed to heal the prickly heat rash that made us itchy at night.
Rain to us was liberating. Not only was it water play, it allowed us to sink our bare feet into soil previously forbidding in its dryness. Do you remember the intensity of that pleasure when the still-warm ground would start giving way to your soles as they slowly turn to soft, gooey mud? There were puddles to jump over, wet bermuda grass that ceased to prick, yellow bells we could fill with raindrops then pop like little balloons, its shattered petals sticking to our wet clothes like confetti. Best of all, there were no adults to stop us from indulging our thrills. They never knew that we would chuck our slippers as soon as we were out of their sight and wade in dirty water, totally forgetting the fear of ringworms that they had instilled in us.
When we have had our fill of the sloshing and the romping, when our teeth started chattering from the cold that had seeped into our bones, we would go home to a warm bath and hot soup, and be lulled to sleep by the sound of steady rain on our rooftops.
The next day we considered ourselves lucky if it would still be raining hard because that meant school would be suspended and we could revel in the fun all over again. Only much later did we come to understand the inconvenience, even the destruction, that monsoon rains could cause. Somehow we were unmindful of the buckets that had to be brought out to catch the leaks from the roofs of our quonset huts. Our school building, a remnant of the war, would flood in places and soak some of our teachers’ materials in putrid water that seeped through the sawali walls.
And then there were the thunderstorms. They started as faint flashes of light and distant rumbles but they would inevitably get closer and louder until the lightning and thunder would happen at the same time, so close to our houses that we would hide in the closets and plug our ears tight with our fingers. There are no real thunderstorms here where I live now and somehow – crazy as this may sound – I miss them.
I miss the running for cover as light and sound collide. I miss the fear that heaven’s wrath was upon us (as the adults would warn) and our childish innocence that made us accept such prophecy unquestioningly. If the thunderstorm was particularly severe, a brownout would be inevitable and we would play hide-and-seek in the dark or let the adults tell us scary stories.
I miss those simple pleasures because they too easily morphed into grown-up disenchantment. We learned too soon the scientific explanation for thunderstorms and the disruptiveness of monsoon rains so we lost our spontaneous ability to be awed and our minds turned shallow as we grumbled about inconsequential things like mud in our shoes and the mosquitoes that would start appearing.
One particularly difficult year, it rained continuously night and day for more than a month, creating deep potholes in the streets and making travel very difficult. Events were canceled, life in the city almost ground to a halt and people felt a dark foreboding that the deluge was punishment for the decadence of the times.
The typhoons were becoming increasingly ferocious too. A particularly vicious one completely wiped out our roof and destroyed our campus cottage so we had to spend the night at the Faculty Center without electricity or water, and just a few dry clothes to keep us from getting sick. While that event was depressing, I look back to it now with fondness because we had friends to keep us company and we spent the night by candlelight singing and telling stories as we shared the few cigarettes that someone managed to salvage from soggy packs. It was one of the most heartwarming nights I’ve ever spent.
Many of those friends are gone now, their existence snuffed out tragically and too soon. I long for them in moments like this when it is dark, rainy and cold, and I am thousands of miles away from the many upheavals that could probably stoke the dying fire in my soul.