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Looking for sunshine on a cloudy day

staff note

I didn’t grow up particularly religious. My parents rejected most political and corporate institutions with a persistent Gen X apathy. We did, however, have our own set of unplanned rituals. As the Carolina thunderstorms rolled through summer afternoons, our home became a place of earthly worship.

Family and neighbors gathered in our ashtray garage congregation, breaking bread and beer on a scattered group of wooden stools and plastic chairs, cigarette smoke wafting as the incense of our ceremony. My dad’s bulky speaker blared a choir of alternative rock radio and scratched Motown CDs. The storms danced in a cacophony of chaos and vitality, the shouting thunder and soothing rain dynamic and impending yet natural and inviting.

What lingers in my memory, though, is not the splintering stools or smoke or even the striking thunder; it is the soundtrack of the storm. The Motown CDs radiated a bouncing energy, filling the room with an undeniable positivity in the midst of destruction. 

Now, any time I hear The Temptations or The Supremes or Smokey Robinson, I’m transported to innocent childhood summer afternoons. And any time I’m in the rain, I hear these artists and their timeless spirit. 

Looking back, it seems intentionally poetic — a symbol for hope or “finding light in the darkness.” But my dad doesn’t care about metaphors or juxtaposition or psychology. He just likes old music and watching the rain fall. And as I grew up, he and my mom always found ways of showing the joy inside a storm.

Like many American families, we felt the blow of the Great Recession. After the crash of 2008, my dad, working in housing construction, was forced to file for bankruptcy. We sold our model SUV, the seemingly flawless vehicle of success and stability, in exchange for the “beater”: a two-door faded blue pickup with a cracked windshield and a rich history. 

At the time, I was only seven and didn’t know anything about a recession or bankruptcy. I just knew we had a new funny little truck marked with the chipping paint of adventure. We would hop in the beater and explore the flea market wonderland or garage sale mysteries. We played swindler with the local dollar movie theater with my mom’s Mary Poppins purse of homemade popcorn and Capri-Suns and unfinished Halloween candy. It wasn’t Disney World. But it always felt just as exciting. 

Even as I’ve grown and been fortunate enough to travel internationally and attend one of the nation’s top colleges, my favorite memories are those sitting around the garage just talking and laughing and listening. Listening to each other. Listening to the rain. Listening to the charm captured by ‘60s Motown groups. 

While my memories may be altered by childhood naivety and adolescent angst, the lessons learned remain valuable. Do not suppress struggles, but embrace vulnerability and vulnerable moments. Stop viewing hard times solely as a standard to which you compare better times. Stop waiting for the rainbow after the rain. Find the song complementing the soft fall of water nourishing the earth. All times are good times, if the music is loud enough. 

In Duke’s fast-paced environment — the academic and social social spheres alike — there is constant pressure to ace classes, find internships and eventually obtain a lucrative career. It’s easy to succumb to academic expectations and the ensuing anxiety. Take a moment to let go of these constraints, let go of concerns over grades and careers and the ever-intimidating future, and immerse yourself into the soundtrack of your personal storm. Because you can’t buy happiness, but you can sure as hell sell it. 

Skyler Graham is a Trinity first-year and Recess staff writer.

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