Flying back into the United States after a project overseas I found myself entering JFK’s Terminal 4 one morning as the sun cracked the horizon. I’m a lousy sleeper on a long haul flight, and after clearing customs I stepped into the terminal in a haze of exhaustion, muscles kinked up, desperately in need of a shower. My connecting flight home was hours away, however, so I did what all experienced travelers do in similar circumstances: I found a place where I could simultaneously re-charge my electronics and myself and got as comfortable as possible.
Through the huge plate glass windows, rain washed the nuclear fire of an autumn sunrise to a soothing watercolor glow on the industrial horizon. Planes glided around the runway like coastal mammals untroubled by the watery spray as shepherd tarmac tugs led them to jetway berths.
If you know New York, you know that even airport food is not like airport food elsewhere. A surprisingly good breakfast joint served me eggs, potatoes with peppers and onions, rye toast, and rich, smooth coffee. I ate contentedly, leisurely, sitting close to the massive windows, watching flight operations outside. I sipped my coffee like a meditation. Decorated by dark clouds and streaming rain, the slow motion dance of rain and planes and hard working ground crews suffused me with intangible memory and feeling. I sat comfortably, alone, surrounded by thousands of people yawning as they hustled to catch early airplanes. I’d been gone from home for nearly three weeks, and on my return I was glad the long day ahead in the terminal had rain outside to keep me company.
Rainy days often insulate my thoughts. They’re full of potential, of opportunity. They have an inherent romance to them, saturated with feeling. A rainy day helps contain free associations, concentrate focus, bring outward views inward. On sunny days with light streaming in, I’m easily distracted by the urge to run around outside, dig in my garden, go see friends, certainly shut down my computer. But on a rainy day I’m more comfortable solving problems in my head, able to sit quietly for long stretches and just think. When I’m working in my office, rain outside provides me a natural soundtrack drumming against my window, affording a non-musical rhythm that can hypnotize and help clarify my thoughts. In the grey light that accompanies rain, my own creative color selections are often brighter than they might have been in the sun.
After rain, with clearing skies, the ground will inevitably shine with puddles. There’s implication of something just having happened right here, something missed but still understood. It never ceases to fascinate me: I’m always a little sad when rain clears. It’s as if my revere has been interrupted, as if the energy from the oncoming light will pull teeming throngs into the world from where-did-they-all-come-from places, revving everything up again. Of course when sunlight finally breaks on the world, that sadness inevitably clears, and I’m glad to see the sun again. I revel in it, in its illumination, its dynamism, its gift of outward clarity. New ideas rush in carried by the light, and a different kind of vitality fills me. (Paul Simon sings of the that fullness of feeling in his love song to creative expression called Kodachrome.)
But I’m reminded that a creative person, of any sort, can choose to see beauty in circumstances that might otherwise curtail action. Where we might not choose to do some things in the rain—a picnic, say, or a site survey for new real estate development—we might suddenly be available to other things. It’s that moment of awareness, that flexibility of experience that affords the creative person the opportunity to take the world as it comes, and then transform experience into something meaningful and new.
We can begin to regard our own creative thoughts like the world itself, washed and cleaned and renewed when it rains.