Of Lightning: A Pastorale

     In my village there was an old man -- as, I suppose, there is in every village. He was very old and very wise; very kind and very gentle. Sometimes he would be severe with the youth in the village, but he was always quick to change and to favor them once again over their parents. He would smile and say: "From the young we learn what the old cannot teach us; for the old have forgotten."

     When I was young, and it came my turn to fetch water for the horses at night and to close up the barn in which they slept, I would always rejoice at the opportunity to be out later than the other boys, and would run up and down the hills and vales lying beyond the barn. Once it was quite dark overhead -- darker, it seemed, than on most evenings -- and quite near raining when I went out to water the horses and tend to the barn doors. As I stood on the first slope behind the barn, watching the heat lightning afar, the old man was suddenly standing at my shoulder, looking after the lightning also.

     I felt very honored to be alone with one so wise as he, and made his time well-spent by asking of him the nature of lightning. The tale he then told me I shall never forget.

     "My son, the bursts of light which you see among the clouds are angels as they dance and frolic. The storm is a display of the Lord's immeasurable power, and the younger angels like to come down close to earth to watch the winds and the rains. They start from high upon the doorstep of the gates of Heaven, and they dive fearlessly off, soaring down and down, gliding like the birds, frolicking among the dark clouds that fill the night sky between Heaven and earth.

     "When you see the lightning set the pillowy clouds aglow, that is the illumination of angels behind the clouds. They fall downward gracefully, reaching the lowest and darkest clouds, where they rear up at the last moment before they are seen clearly by mortals, lest man be blinded by their awesome glory. Some angels will step even onto the ground, then leap up into the air again are are gone. These angels are often so overcome by their joy and by the exhilaration of their fall and the sailing downward through the ice clouds to the lower sky that they shout for joy; and that is the low rumbling you hear echoing from cloud to star-hung cloud above. When they step onto the earth, then leap upward again, the crashing sound is what we call thunder.

     "All of this you should never fear; but, as you lie alone in your bed at night, listening to the storm and waiting for sleep to come, think of the angels as they play, dancing between the airy platforms of cloud and diving from the terrific heights to the very earth, soaring and gliding all the long way down. And think how you, too, will do this, when you are a young angel in Heaven."

     The old man died many, many years ago, and is forgotten by all but me. For now I am the oldest of my village, and it is I who teach the children, smiling upon them for their innocence as they play. And, although I do not really believe that it is true, I tell them the tale of the angels, of how they dive from the steps of Heaven through the vastness that is the darkly clouded sky, flashing as their holy raiments are glimpsed through the lighter clouds, and crying out for joy in their flight downward to touch resoundingly upon the very earth.

© 1996 Alan Gullette
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