“A storm always awakens whatever passion there is in me. I become eager, and seek relief in work.”
Standing on the Brooklyn roof, I watch huge raindrops create a xylophone from the wooden planks. Lightning splits Manhattan’s skyline along the river of Lead. It thunders — a low, drawn-out bellow. As if washing away daily anxieties, it swirls across the sky. Then, with complete and bruising power, the storm descends. I think of Georgia O’Keeffe, who wrote to her best friend a century ago from the dramatic clime of the Southwest: “Last night we had a tremendous thunderstorm — and I’ve never seen such lightning in my life — it was wonderful… Stood out on the porch for a long time watching the whole sky alive.”
Around the country, there was also a Lebanese poet, and philosopher. Kahlil Gibran (January 6, 1883–April 10, 1931) was recording his own enchantment with mother nature’s most dramatic moods in Beloved Prophet (public library) — the collection of his almost unbearably beautiful love letters to and from Mary Haskell, which gave us his meditations on America and why artists make art.
From the coast of Massachusetts, Gibran wrote to Haskell in a heartfelt letter dated mid-August 1912.
It is the great storm I’ve been waiting for, and it has finally arrived. The sky has turned black. The sky is black and the sea white and foamy. Unknown gods fly between the sky and sea. I am watching it as I write… What is there in a storm that moves me so? How is it possible that I feel stronger, more confident in life and live longer when the storms are passing by? It is a mystery to me, but I love storms more than any other thing in the natural world.
Two years later, he finds his imagination fomented by a late-winter storm in New York, where with Haskell’s patronage he has rented a small art studio to paint:
Outside, a snowstorm is in full swing. The studio is It’s niceWarm, caring and eager to do work are my core values. Storms free my heart from small cares and painful experiences. Every spark of passion that I feel is sparked by a storm. My desire to be productive drives me mad. My ideal life would be on the highest mountain in one of the most turbulent countries (but not the coldest) anywhere in the globe. Do you know of any such place? It is possible. I will go there one day and make my own pictures and poetry.
This July, Haskell wrote a letter from mid-July. She had spent her summers alone in California’s mountains and she mirrored Gibran’s love for storms. From mid-July she wrote this in a note:
Kahlil my beloved,
I too was in the storm last Sunday — morning and afternoon driving five miles each in a tiny open sleigh with a good horse — in howling wind and rain — wishing for you and knowing how you would love it. You are the reason I have never been in a hurricane without you.
At least, I’m always there Not without you — even when all else is vague or ghastly.
Complement this particular portion of the wholly stunning Beloved Prophet with Coleridge on the storm, the rainbow, and the soul, Maira Kalman and Daniel Handler’s poetic illustrated love letter to the weather, and Annie Dillard’s arresting account of another display of nature’s grandeur, then savor this uncommonly beautiful Japanese illustrated ode to the changing sky.
Giving = Being Loving
Since a decade and a half I’ve been writing for hundreds of hours each month, spending thousands of dollars every month. MarginalianIt was known for the infuriating name Brain Pickings its first 15 years. Thanks to the support of readers, it has been free from ads and still exists. I have no staff, no interns, no assistant — a thoroughly one-woman labor of love that is also my life and my livelihood. Donations are a great way to make your own life better. Every dollar counts.
Subscribe to our newsletter
MarginalianReceive a weekly free newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s most inspiring reading. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.