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  • Writer's pictureRichard Costes

Petrichor: n. the smell of earth after a rain

I love the sound of the rain – whether it is a light drizzle on an otherwise sunny day or the torrential downpour mixing with the drums of thunder. Last year around this time – I was informed by my audiologist that within fifteen to twenty years I would be completely deaf.  I always knew as I grew older my hearing would steadily decline – but it never really sunk in until the day I sat in the audiologist’s office and watched this woman, glasses perched absentmindedly on the edge of her nose, tracing her fingertip over the lines on the charts she was showing me.  Here is where you were when you were eight, she said, and here is where you are now, she continued as her fingertip traced a line from the top left down towards the bottom. I was born with a profound hearing loss in both of my ears.  There was, I admit, a period of my life where I was so ashamed at the idea of being different that I refused to admit that my loss was a result of something as mundane as genetics.  Instead I claimed to have lost it in a car accident.  There may or may not have been explosions in my telling of the story, embellishments designed in a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to turn the loss into something cool. A year ago those words, out of nowhere, hit like a hammer.  Suddenly I found myself confronting an issue that I had always pushed away to the back of my mind.  I have no rational explanation why the realization of what those words really meant hit me so forcefully at that particular moment in time.  I had, after all, known this since I was old enough to understand the implications of the words – but I had always shrugged it off nonchalantly.  But suddenly my mind was filled with the things I would lose: I would lose music, I would lose theater, and I would lose the sound of the rain. A year ago, after an initial short bout of melancholy, I found myself outside in the rain as I ran.  It was a short loop, no more than four miles, but ever since I was a child I’ve loved the feel of water thrumming against my skin.  When I ran competitively in high school – my times were always better in the rain.  There’s a refreshing quality to the water as it falls, pure and undiluted, from the sky.  My strongest memories are associated with the rainfall – the memory of my first kiss, my first experience with the loss of someone I loved, and my first storm.  When I run, I remove the hearing aids I wear everywhere, and I am locked in a world of silence and mute metaphors.  And in the rain, though I can no longer hear the thrum of the raindrops on the ground, I can feel them humming across my skin.

I was left with an appreciation for everything I can now experience rather than a regret for those things I will one day lose. Last night I had my first rehearsal for the Tempest.  This reinterpretation of Shakespeare’s final play focuses on themes of loss – and it began with one of Shakespeare’s sonnets, spoken by Prospera: Tir'd with all these, for restful death I cry, As, to behold desert a beggar born, And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity, And purest faith unhappily forsworn, And guilded honour shamefully misplaced, And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted, And right perfection wrongfully disgraced, And strength by limping sway disabled, And art made tongue-tied by authority, And folly (doctor-like) controlling skill, And simple truth miscall'd simplicity, And captive good attending captain ill:    Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,     Save that, to die, I leave my love alone. It is a sonnet that speaks with regret of the idea that sometimes things are not as they should be.  In this imagining of the Tempest it is used to emphasize the sorrow at the loss of Prospera’s daughter, Miranda, and begins the play on a deeply resonant note that most everyone can connect with.  But as the actress playing Prospera, Amber, recited the sonnet - I found myself drawn backwards in time to a forgotten memory – of a storm. When I was a child – barely able to string together words that could form a coherent sentence – my hometown was rent asunder by a “finger of God” – a F5 tornado that tore through Niles and Newton Falls.  Eighteen people died as the storm blew from Ohio towards Pennsylvania.  And somehow through divine providence, fate, or chance (depending on what you believe in), the tornado did not do any damage to my neighborhood.  Two blocks away from my house, it completely wrecked everything standing.  God let loose his malevolence on our backyard, and we remained. I don’t remember much about the storm – I was far too young to recall anything in detail.  But I do remember some. I remember tugging on my father’s shirt and asking him, the way young children do, why the sky was green.  And I remember my mother taking me by the hand and leading me into the basement where we would sit with my yia-yia and cower as the sounds of the storm roared around us.  I remember as I entered the house with my mom, looking back to see my dad standing in the doorframe that led from the garage to the backyard – his back to me.  He looked for all the world like John Wayne in the Searchers.  To me, as a child of no more than three he was larger than life and he was so brave to stand there in defiance of nature’s fury itself. These days I find myself fascinated by storms like my father was.  I wonder sometimes if he felt the same way I do now about them.  It’s that same feeling you get when you stare up at the cosmos and find yourself struck by the smallness of your perspective.  How can you, nothing more than a mere human, hope to etch your name on a timeline where you won’t even outlive the smallest of stars? There’s a word, smithed by John Koenig at the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, called occhiolism.  It is defined as the awareness of the smallness of your perspective, by which you couldn’t possibly draw any meaningful conclusions at all, about the world or the past or the complexities of culture, because although your life is an epic and unrepeatable anecdote, it still only has a sample size of one, and may end up being the control for a much wilder experiment happening in the next room. We are taught at a very young age by priests and preachers, teachers and parents, that we are responsible for the world.  That everything that ever was important was crafted by the hands of man.  We learn, as we become older, that this is simply not true.  In the scope of the breadth of the universe’s existence – we are insignificant.  The sun doesn’t care if we live or die, nor does the earth.  It will keep spinning long after we are gone, erased from the planet due to our own folly. But where some people struggle to comprehend this – and search for a greater meaning to life – I take comfort in this knowledge.  A hundred years after I am gone, it is unlikely anyone will remember me.  This is not the worst that could happen.  There is something comforting about the knowledge that life is yours and yours alone.  The experiences I have, the memories I dream of will only be mine.  I may tell the stories, but the telling will always be heard with a different perspective than yours.  There’s a distance in memories – a connection that can never be fully made between two people – except in one place: the theatre. I am drawn to theatre because of the opportunity to forge memories with others – not the memory of the creation and construction of the art, but the two hours where you perform and the audience is swept along with you.  There's something magical there - its different than the way you experience a book, or a film, or any other work of art - because there is a shared consciousness between the creator and the observer that does not exist in any other art form, save maybe music.  But music is presented in the abstract - moreso than some forms of theater - and the connection is a wholly different one. And the theater, the moment I step into it as an audience member or as a performer or a director or any other role I've taken on over the years, is cleansing.  It is a baptism by art - and I always leave the space feeling refreshed and re-invigorated.  Last night I got the opportunity to experience that feeling again - I left the read-through refreshed and inspired, washed clean by creativity and enthusiasm. And this morning when I woke up, I wrote this - and decided to begin blogging again - for however long it lasts this time. It is a beautiful thing to be inspired and I want to be able to remember those moments twenty five years from now with more clarity than I remember my father standing in defiance of the storm.

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