Last night I drove home with my daughters in a thunderstorm. It started out as just a little rain but there was thunder and lightning and it seemed that things were going to get serious pretty soon. My older daughter (11), who so clearly gets it, took the opportunity to say to her sister (8): Did you know that there was a guy who was hit by lightning three times? Silence. Finally I said, Why didn’t he go inside? And this made my older daughter laugh, but my younger daughter paused for a moment and then said, Yeah, why didn’t he go inside? (Which once again proves to me that there is a dividing line of humor: the age at which you don’t quite get certain subtleties and the age at which you completely do. I think this age might be 10.)
We then reminded ourselves how being in a car is entirely safe when lightning strikes, as we witnessed once at the Museum of Science in Boston when some guy electrocuted a car for a thrilled crowd of spectators. This somehow reminded my older daughter of a documentary she had seen that week with my dad. She proceeded to tell me about what is probably the coolest theory of space. She used the film’s example of a bowling ball being dropped onto a bed and how anything else dropped onto the bed would roll toward the bowling ball. Basically the point is that space isn’t just “air”; it’s a substance and the Earth sits in it like a bowling ball and the moon is pulled toward it.
And just as I was marveling over this, just as I was picturing the giant bed of space, the rain became suddenly so intense that I had to put my windshield wipers on the frantic setting and I had to ask my girls to stop talking in this way that they know means I am truly serious. And as I drove through the pounding rain, I thought (as I often do) about how I didn’t really start to drive until I was 30 years old, when I moved up here from the city. And how ever since I have had to drive just about every single day, through repeated rainstorms and snowstorms, and how, if I really thought about it, I might actually be considered good at them.
Now the idea of driving through a snowstorm or thunderstorm always panics me and the most terrifying moment of all is actually the minutes just before I realize that I am, in fact, in the middle of one. But then something happens to me once it starts. I become uncharacteristically calm, my hands completely steady on the wheel, my foot pressing on the gas pedal in precisely the right way so that I never have to use the brakes. The rain has to let up eventually, I thought, as I navigated our car onto the Taconic, which is quite simply the scariest windy road you could drive on, even in the best of weather (though for some reason, I am always up for the challenge and never shy away from it). And then eventually the rain let up. The sky brightened and I said something like, Well.
And then, unremarkably, I drove us the rest of the way home.