Whenever it rains, Paris streets get nearly as empty as my suburban hometown’s. Even when rain visits for a handful of minutes in spring, tourists suddenly rush for shelter, cafés fill up. The park around me empties, and I sit still and wait and wait.
I am a child of summer. I await the sun’s return, for insects to crawl back up the earth and for the year’s first strawberries to fill supermarket crates. Sunlight lifts something away, clears some leftover heaviness from colder months, everything under it is new and the same. I have known this my whole life, but I am just now understanding that rain carries life just as sunlight does, and most importantly I’m learning not to frown upon an experience just for comfort’s sake.
When it rains on a Sunday, I wear sturdy boots and a raincoat and go for a long walk. When I am reading on a park bench and it starts raining, I put away my book and walk closer to the trees. I breathe deeply because I know the air smells sweeter. I enjoy all of it: the dampness of my socks, the unhidden ugliness of Paris under the rain. Spring weather is mischievous: it waits until we have set up our picnic on the grass to stir grey clouds over our heads. We start leaving only to realize we are already fully soaked, clothes sticking to our skin and curls heavy with water droplets. We were happy under the sun, but the rain brings a surprise. It is a child laughing and opening its hands to reveal some ugly creature it found in the soil. It’s all so suddenly funny, the water everywhere and the people rushing and the umbrellas, how the rain is a miracle that doesn’t care that it’s late spring. So we stay. So we walk slowly, laugh louder because the rain eats the sound right out of our mouths, laugh knowing how dirty rain is in the city and knowing how the only romanticism here is the secret feeling bursting slowly under the water.
I think this is why I love the rain now: I don’t expect it to be beautiful. I’m too busy trying to take in how different everything suddenly is to hold it up against some imagined experience, too busy trying to hear over its sound and to see through the water, my soul drawn outward and suddenly alert. Rain makes all sensory endeavours more delicate: when I’m getting rained on, it doesn’t occur to me to take a picture of it or to try and correct my appearance. Rain fills all space, flows through every open window: there is no room for pretence. It holds me with both tenderness and indifference, reminding me gently that it has a soul of its own.
I no longer try to avoid the rain. When we meet sometimes, I welcome it as a friend. Every time I carry a little more hope. This is something I’ve felt in meeting the rain: sometimes an inconvenience or an accident lets in the light. Rain is a hand unfolding to unlock a door for the beast lying restlessly within. The beast runs wild, chasing after something it cannot see, pushing at the walls of the body, daring it to become something more. It’s an optimism of the unfashionable kind, the freedom to enjoy something gone wrong without trying to resist it. What is the point of closing my soul to what it did not expect? What joy is there in ignoring happiness the world holds for me in its cupped hands? What joy is there in closing the door?
Later I get home, exhaustion dripping over my bones. My body welcomes the warmth of the shower and of the food, welcomes comfort just as it had loved discomfort. I lie down, and think that I could never resent the world for gifting me with this.