The Pacific Northwest is gray and rainy. The rain isn't oppressive. Our bike tour guide said that it didn't usually rain hard. She was right. If you had a rain jacket, you were fine. But she did say that it rains about 85% of the year. That's 310(.25) days of grayness not even counting the days in which it might be cloudy but not rainy. EA and I talked about how we could totally live in Portland if it were not for the grayness.
When I got back to the bottom of Multnomah Falls on Sunday afternoon, the rain did get oppressive. A huge storm with wind and light hail swept in from seemingly out of nowhere.
I actually need to take a moment to apologize. About halfway down, a woman asked me if the view at the top was worth it. I told her the view was beautiful and she carried on. Miss, I do not know your name, but I am so very sorry that I unwittingly encouraged you to keep going into that driving rain storm. I know you are a marathoner and therefore are incredibly tough, but I'm guessing that storm was not fun up there. Had I known, I obviously would have said to head back down.
The Multnomah monsoon did not last long. As we drove home, the rain lightened up and eventually gave way to the overcast skies to which we had grown accustomed during our short time in Oregon. After a stop at a fabric store, we went back to our hotel to rest before heading back out to dinner. Being our last day in Portland, I decided to go for a run down by the waterfront.
Running down SW Taylor St., I didn't notice anything particularly different. Tall buildings. People hustling along the sidewalk. Stop lights and crosswalks. But then I hit the river and saw it: the sky was blue and the sun hung low in the sky.
I had thought Portland was an attractive city. The river with its numerous bridges and its architecture gave it character. Even the grayness gave it a grainy, indie film sort of vibe which fits the city. But Portland in the sun was radiant. I even stopped a few times on my run to snap a few pictures on my phone. I never stop on my runs.
I immediately thought about how the contrast enhanced the beauty. If the sun had shown the entire weekend, I may have superficially appreciated the cityscape during that late afternoon run but it would not have been anything to make me stop in my tracks. Yet after several days of gray and a fierce storm that afternoon, the view felt like a gift.
I sometimes wonder about the connection between light and darkness, joy and grief. Would we know it was light if we had not experienced darkness? Would we be able to identify grief if not for having previously experienced joy? Are those binaries essential to understanding either side? I am not totally sure. I think you can know what those entities are, but perhaps it is only a surface-level thing.
Earlier this afternoon, Jim asked me why we can't have everything we want. That is a hard question to answer for a four year old. Among many attempts, I told him that we would not appreciate what we had if we had everything we wanted. Nothing would hold value if we could just toss it aside and automatically get whatever it is we want next. The absence of something helps us to truly appreciate our encounters with something whether it be love, joy, food, or the late afternoon sun.
I don't want to delve too deeply into this because I fear I would start to sound like a freshman philosophy student (I already do). Yet I wonder if the absence is like a vaccine for the grateful soul. Just like a small, conquerable virus is introduced so that a body can be healthy, perhaps we need to know loss and pain and sadness to be healthy individuals. Not knowing the absence throws us out of whack. We take the good things in life for granted. We think they are owed to us.
I am not saying it is good for us to experiences these absences. I think we should help anyone that is being bombarded by the viruses of darkness, hunger, loss, and everything else. Yet I think these gaps can help us more greatly appreciate the beauty in the world and also help us to be more sympathetic to those that live in the shadows. We must not ignore the absence, but learn from it when it comes our way. And when the sun comes, it will feel like new life rather than just another day. We are truly able to see the beauty.
The clouds were beginning to roll back in as I left the riverfront for our hotel. The breeze whipped up and the glimmers of sunlight began to fade. Yet the peace still clung to the shadows. In that moment, I could totally understand how Portlanders could deal with gray and the rain. They made days like this all the more beautiful.