Opinion //

On the bigness of small things

Maybe it’s more fitting than we realise that the return to campus is clouded by darkness.

Photo by Thomas Sargeant

Few things are looked down on with as much collective disdain as small talk; that lubricant of politeness seen as inane, insignificant. To speak of the weather, the seemingly smallest form of small talk, is an admittance of having nothing interesting to say, or simply nothing in common with the person before you.

But to contemplate for a moment the space in our lives that the weather occupies is to realise it is anything but small. To forget that we live in constant relation to the weather is to neglect one’s relationship to a dimension of the physical world entirely, to forgo an awareness of our surroundings that shapes so much more of ourselves than we care to admit. The beginning of rethinking one’s relationship to the weather is to realise we are living in constant relation to it.

When taken seriously, the weather is spoken of almost exclusively in big, existential and political ways. Yet it is also something intimate and personal, woven into the seams of the minute details of every day. It is present in the half thoughts, so familiar that they’re rendered barely conscious, about what to wear, how much skin to show, the kind of coffee to buy, the plans to be made, the shape of our days.

Though it is embedded in our routines, it is also something that imposes itself on us, makes itself known with relentless force. La Niña giving her last hurrah as we go back to in person classes almost seems like a fitting level of chaos on which to end the past two years of online uni. Is it not strange to give a storm a name and pronouns, to blame her for all this destructiveness, water damage on campus, flash flooding, for stealing this summer – yet still think of the weather only in relation to its degree of convenience, as peripheral and insignificant, as something separate from ourselves?

There is something grandiose about the unending downpour as it suddenly becomes so immediate in our lives, more present and physical. Not only as something happening around us, but something happening to us, in squelching socks on the walk to campus, in sitting through classes half soaked, still damp on the train home. Who are we to forget that we are also just objects being acted upon, that to the weather, it is us who are insignificant? It is hubristic to think that it’s the other way round.

Yet in spite of the many forms of chaos and discomfort caused by this incessant downpour, it is the rain that I have to thank for the small moments of generosity; in strangers walking down Abercrombie St who shared their umbrellas, and for the miniscule sweetness of getting to share my own. Few things are more comforting than trivial moments of goodness than making a momentary friend out of a stranger with whom you have no more in common with than time and place – and the singular shared experience of rain.

Just as the lilac sea of jacarandas on campus signals the nearness of summer and the end of semester, the weather is a reminder that less is in our control than we like to believe.