“Hang on to your wallet
hang on to your rings
I can’t look below me
something will throw me
I curse at the windstorms
that October brings
I wish I could fly
from this building
from this wall
and if I should try
would you catch me
if I fall
when I fall”
-Barenaked Ladies, “When I Fall”
A storm is blowing into Highland Park, New Jersey this evening. It’s a storm that’s ravaged much of the seaboard already, bringing warnings of flooding and overwhelm to parts north and east. All day, the barometer has been sliding down as the winds have picked up and the skies have conspiratorially bonded in varying realms of shadowy gray. There is a sense of proximity, of closeness, of the world drawing near. Closer, closer, now almost here.
The world truly has converged today across the Raritan River, in New Brunswick. A young man who’d just joined the campus where I coach famously plunged to his death from the George Washington Bridge, his wet broken body just identified this afternoon. His roommate’s filming of his romantic encounters with another man, streamed live on the internet, and his subsequent private jump, are probably the top story in America today. The media is here to discover everything they can and stream that live on the internet too.
Unsurprisingly, many of the Rutgers debaters and I have held an online debate in the wake of this last event about the nature of the media’s frenzy. While their sharklike gathering is certainly unsavory, this story at least exposes the peer conflicts and homophobia that are often rampant on college campuses and get under-reported. I can’t espouse the demands for the head of the roommate on a platter, but neither can I say this is a particularly bad use of media time, especially when compared to the disappearance of yet another rich blonde girl from such and such location. It remains to be seen how the spotlight ultimately treats Rutgers, how the university fares under its white-hot illumination. Our team was already scheduled to debate civility on campus in a public showcase next Thursday before this happened.
Tonight I walked into downtown Highland Park, such as it is, to do a little light shopping and look around the town. It’s cute and quaint and fall serves it well. While my ultimate destination was Stop and Shop for imminent practicalities like envelopes and soap and microwave burritos, I couldn’t help but tarry at the Nighthawk Bookstore, offering used books and music till midnight, five days a week. There seems to be a bit of community to this community, traversed by walkers of all kinds even in the billowing winds of an onrushing thunder. The distances are short and the buildings old, but there is life and vibrance and a kind of candle in the darkness. By the time I returned home, fleeing the first sprinkles and clutching the chafing plastic handle of the bag (my half of the canvas collection is still stuffed somewhere against cardboard), I was feeling almost okay about where I’ve landed. A ping-pong ball bouncing high in the air, fortunate to land, all but by chance, in a small town instead of the Hudson.
A hard rain’s a-gonna fall, make no mistake. I am debating between heading over to practice rounds in my car or toughing out my simulation of carlessness and walking against the slings and arrows of outrageous downpour, come what may. I think I’d like to feel the rain pelting against my jacket, soaking my hat, gathering in my eyes and hair as I trudge into an almost invisible future. There is a solace in storms, the promise of washing away all that has gathered and built in the corners and cracks and alleys of sunbaked neglect. Of renewal, reopening the ground to accept the life-sustaining promise of water, the emboldening prospect of wind. There is also power and fear, of course. The sudden randomness of a bolt of lightning, the crack of the bough as it snaps away from the tree in a particular gust. But even this breakage creates renewal. New buds, new life, new access to the sun that the formerly blocked were denied.
It is time for all of us to fall someday. And it is October tomorrow. The only question is how far we fall when the wind knocks us down.