The magic of weather

Jul 22, 2008 at 11:55 p.m. ET

There's a movie I saw when I was in high school that has been a favorite because of a single scene. "Tempest", based on the Shakespeare play, includes performances by a young Molly Ringwald and Susan Sarandon. But it's John Cassavetes character who stands in the window of his New York apartment as a thunderstorm raged. "Show me the magic," the character commands, and indeed, magic happens.

Thunderstorm on the Beach
A few nights ago, driving home from a baseball game half hour away, the sky started to light up with lightening. High in the atmosphere there were flashes of light as a storm developed and rumbled in the same direction we were headed. Soon the lightening started strking the ground in the distance and the intensity and frequency of the flashes increased. There were dozens if not hundreds of flashes. We drove for twenty minutes watching the display, as the boys expressed awe with each bolt. The meteorological display was impressive, and we were all suitably dazzled. As we neared home, we started to hear the thunder, too, distant at first, then closer, closer. Still, the boys watched in wonder.

Magic on a hot summer night

I was almost instantly reminded of the start of a summer vacation when I was nine or ten. We drove out of the low dessert onto a high mesa late one Friday night, trying to get at least a little out of the city after my dad finished his work week. A storm was passing over our southwestern state and I watched lighting flashes through the roof window of my mom's station wagon. I counted over three hundred lightening flashes before I stopped counting and fell asleep, believing myself safe with my dad at the wheel.I remember that the night felt special, somehow different. Years later when I saw that movie, it all connected. I felt the magic of the weather on that hot August night so many years ago, just as my children saw it just a few nights ago on a hot July night - the beautiful, dangerous magic of weather.We drove out toward the beach to watch the storm; we weren't the only ones. Often storms will pass just to the north of our area, and you can watch the whole thing happen in relative safety. The lightening and thunder continued and increased. We watched strikes reach the bay nearby, the brightness obscuring with the peachy glow of the low hanging moon for just a moment. Every strike prompted a turn of the head, a vocalization from the backseat. Then the rain began, hard. We turned for home, careful in the downpour. It was all over by the time we pulled into our driveway seven minutes later.

Safety first, of course

As parents, we took care to make sure we were as safe as possible. If we had felt at all like we were in imminent danger, we would have sought the nearest shelter. As adults we know that even beautiful, magical weather can be dangerous. We know we must teach that to our children, too. But for the night, it was all about the magic. I'm usually the parent nervous in this situation, but I pushed my usual anxiety aside just enough for those forty minutes to give my kids that bit of magic. They are still talking about what they saw that night - the flashes, the light, the clouds, the intensity (and not the baseball game). It's night they are going to remember for a long, long time.