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How a Thunderstorm Taught Me to Laugh

by Olivia L. Dobbs about a year ago in advice
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Lessons Learned from Field Research

How a Thunderstorm Taught Me to Laugh
Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

It’s a tricky feat to divide childhood from adulthood before the division occurs. From sixteen on, I thought I was the picture of understanding. No obstacle was unbeatable in my teenage years. With enough willpower and intellect, I could conquer anything. With no coming-of-age story under my belt, I happily assumed I didn’t need one. Being *mature* just came naturally.

I didn’t truly grow up until I first felt helpless.

--

It was my first overnight college field trip, and our destination was anything but luxurious. The journey was to a remote desert in Southern California, followed by a hike into an area so untouched by civilization that there weren’t roads -or even hiking trails. With twenty other scrappy young scientists, I looked around with concern, waiting for the course’s professor to dispel my diverse collection of nerves. Amongst piles of suitcases, students muttered about the trip's anxieties.

Our professor arrived in view, a shockingly small amount of personal luggage in hand for a weekend trip. He moseyed over without a care in the world, despite the 20 pairs of eyes widely looking at him.

One student, unable to wait any longer, rushed over and held up his phone to his face; he announced that the weather in Algodones Dunes called for intense thunderstorms. A voice in the crowd chimed in, “Is it safe to go?” Another, “Is the trip canceled?”

He paused and looked over the student’s head at the mob we had become. We were all waiting on his response, various shades of fear painted on our tenderfoot exteriors.

The professor replied, “We’re absolutely not canceling; we’re already here! Who cares about a little water? We’ll be fine.”

He scooted us into designated field trip vans, and we were off. In the following four-hour drive, I couldn’t help but ruminate on the frequency of flash floods in low-lying areas of desert.

Upon arrival, we trekked out to our campsite, a sparse landscape of soft light sand and sweltering heat. I immediately set to pitching my tent; it was the first time I had ever had the opportunity to sleep alone on a camping trip. The afternoon passed without issue; the only clouds rolled by far in the distance. By nightfall, we were all lulled into ease from the day’s scorching heat.

As we prepared for slumber, lightning flashed on the horizon. To measure the distance, we counted the time between flash and thunder. It was miles out, and the wind pointed away from our little makeshift campsite.

Flash “1...2...3...4...5...6...7...8…” rumble.

I knocked out as soon as my head touched the pillow.

--

WHOOSH!

I woke up with my body already in motion. A wind blew with a gust that knocked my tent and me sideways. With intense fury, the desert hurled air and sand across her surface. The brand new tent began to fold in on itself.

In a half-sleep stupor, my legs and arms jutted out to hold the tent corners from collapsing. With the appearance of a starfish, I leaned and struggled with the wind to upright the failing fiberglass frame. The effort was useless. Gusts blustered with increasing strength, picking up sand and lobbing it into the tent’s interior. Suddenly, amongst the gale, a pitter-patter of water began to pick up.

With all my might, I fought against the stubbornness of the Sonoran Winds. With a final heave and a grunt, I realigned my tent. I leaned my entire weight on the windward side. The tent tried to buckle as I huffed in the effort.

FLASH. The sky went white. I counted again.

“1...2…-” RUMBLE

Overnight, the storm had changed course.

FLASH. “1…” BOOM.

The wind howled as the rain quickened its pace. Another side of my tent buckled as the Sonoran air changed direction on a whim.

Suddenly, brightness. Thunder crashed simultaneously as, for a millisecond, my campsite became bright as day.

I froze like a deer in headlights, waiting for the sudden jolt of lightning to hit my tent. I was alone, stuck, and unable to make any difference.

Instead of a crash, a laugh rang out, then another, then another. Someone asked in the distance, “Are we going to die?” and more chuckles joined the chorus. At that moment, I discovered a fundamental truth.

Yes, we were stuck. There was nothing we could do but wait and see if we’d make it. We could either cower or face our fate head-on. I braced my tent and chuckled. If this was it, we might as well enjoy it.

Together, our class embraced that chaos. Between thunderclaps, we yelled jokes across the campsite.

Soon enough, the gap between flash and rumble expanded. We survived together. Instead of fear and misery, we ended up forming a fond memory.

I fell asleep smiling.

--

Still, I think about that night whenever chaos rears her head in my direction. When strife strikes or afflictions flash, I listen for the thunder. Between the booms and crashes, I try to hold my loved ones closer and join them in laughter. When the winds of life bluster, I muster my strength and fortify with a smile on my face. In my maturing, that night made all the difference.

When the going gets rough, and there’s no sense in getting going, look for the silver linings and small joys in the meantime. Your storms will pass no matter your reaction.

When you are able, wait out your rain with laughter.

P.S. To you young lone wolves, storms are easier with others.

advice

About the author

Olivia L. Dobbs

Science Enthusiast, Naturalist, Dreamer.

Check out my science! -> bit.ly/DobbsEtAl

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