41 Days

It took me 41 days, in the spring of 1996. After working 19 years in my home church in Los Angeles, I needed a reboot. I said goodbye to family and friends, loaded two geriatric Labradors into the back of my Volvo station wagon, and hit the road. It was Monday, sunny and warm; the first day of Holy Week.

My three brothers lived in the Pacific Northwest; I’d stay with one of them until I found work. I felt reborn. I put the car in drive, popped in a cassette, and started singing, the dogs howling in harmony as we left the LA basin.

And then it began to rain.

I stayed in cheap hotels, traveling by day and letting the dogs out every two hours to piddle so my car seats would remain as undampened as my spirits. I sang the entire rainy length of California, past Yreka, and across the border to Oregon. I thought it was odd that just as I hit the Siskiyou Mountains a thunderstorm broke out that was louder than I had ever heard in my life, louder than my car stereo, and now the dogs were howling in fear. I relaxed once I hit Medford; the rain was now only a downpour.

I found my brother’s house, let the dogs out into their new back yard, and dried them thoroughly with a towel. It was April 3, Wednesday, and it was gently raining.

Maundy Thursday was damp. Easter dribbled. It soaked out the week after that, and for the next 34 days it misted, showered, sprinkled, drizzled, flurried, sheeted, and poured. The Volvo windows got a slippery veneer of mildew. My shoes squished when I walked. I discovered banana slugs on the sidewalk. They were escaping the flooded lawn.

Around day 10, I sagged. On day 20, I was ridiculously depressed. By day 30, I burst into tears roughly every 15 minutes, my own personal weather system.

On day 40, I blew my nose and looked outside. In the back yard was an 80-foot Douglas fir, probably older than me. As I watched the rain fall on the fir tree, I started to notice other things happening in that tree, too. Squirrels running the length of the trunk; the blue jay scolding from an upper branch while a woodpecker drilled away below.

It occurred to me then that the rain wasn’t getting in the way of the tree’s beauty, or the animals’ daily routine. For them, the rain was essential, like the air. For me, the rain was a reminder of the old life I had left, and hadn’t planned on grieving. It was time to let the rain be something else now; a way of letting the tears sink down into my roots and grow something new.

That was 18 years ago. I love my life, the one that took 18 years and many sets of 40 days to build. I am pretty sure that I will love the next chapter of it as well, rain and tears and all. Every year, there are 40 days of Lent, but sometimes, your own personal Lent takes its own time. Mine was 41 days.

By the way, the sun eventually did come out that year, and I almost got a suntan. But I have learned to love, just as much as the sun, the Lenten gray of the rain.

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