When I am in the midst of a storm I often think of Pablo Neruda.
April is here, bringing promised showers and sometimes with them, tumultuous weather. A few nights ago, a thunderstorm passed us, tearing through the neighborhood, downing trees and severing the connection of thousands of my neighbors to electricity. I cursed my neglecting to charge my phone the night before and worried that we’d be without electricity for so long that my tablet and computer would also hibernate along with the power. While one February we’d suffered through four days without heat or hot water following a snowstorm that dumped several feet of snow on this city unaccustomed to much accumulation, this time the electricity returned after only a few hours.
I have often written of my appreciation of the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. Storms sometimes remind me of a story from his autobiography, Confeso que he vivido: Memorias, published as Memoirs in English, leaving out the “I Confess That I Have Lived” in the original Spanish title. I learned from the book that Neruda had been a diplomat and had spent a good deal of time in Asia.
On a flight from Colombo, Sri Lanka (what was then called Ceylon) to Rangoon, Burma (what is now known as Yangon, Myanmar), Neruda saw the plane crammed with “turbaned passengers, covered with colors and loaded with baskets.” A tropical storm along the way caused the plane to “shudder” and a darkness darker than true night time edged out the daytime sky. Lightning illuminate the sky accompanied by the booms of thunder, and the plane began to “stagger.”
Rain began to fall inside the plane.The water came in in heavy drops that reminded me of my house in Temuco (Chile) in winter. But ten thousand meters up, those leaks did not amuse me. The amazing thing, though, was a monk sitting behind us. He opened an umbrella and with Oriental serenity went on reading his texts of ancient wisdom.
I rarely fear the turbulence of a flight, unless it is particularly fierce. I occasionally fear the possibility of tornadoes in a storm, a fear I carry with me from my childhood. I have never found myself on a flight or in a storm as frightening as the one Neruda described. If I ever do, I hope I will find enough peace to simply open an umbrella and continue on with my reading.