Two Ways To Look At A Rainbow

by Maria Theresa Maggi on February 24, 2020

Last Sunday Cotton and I went down to the beach in the late afternoon to play for a bit in the wind, next to the rising tide. We had a spirited few minutes down on the sand playing with Cotton’s “toy” (a twisted rope knotted at both ends that he treats like prey) and made our way back up the stairs to sit on a bench against the cabana for a few minutes before going home.

Though it was cold, the sun was shining brightly, so, being the native California girl that I am, I didn’t expect the raindrops I started to feel as I sat there on the bench. I decided they were real and increasing rather than stopping, so we ought to head back home. As we turned to the east and walked up the hill, I could see the sky was gray in that direction. So I was completely surprised and gobsmacked to notice when I looked up at the sky again at the top of the hill to see an absolutely magnificent rainbow in front of us and above us.

If I looked closely, I could also determine the ephemeral remains of its double on the outer edges. The way home appeared to lead us toward the rainbow, as if we would walk right under it and into another world.

And it was a kind of other world. By this time, though the sun was shining brightly, it was clear we were definitely also in the middle of a rain shower. I pulled up my hood, and Cotton had to be a good sport without his rain coat, but he didn’t seem to mind. As we rounded the corner at the top of the hill, I had a decision to make. I could see that at the end of the street going north would put us further away from the center of the rainbow, but if we went south we could still participate in the illusion of walking right under it. Since both ways lead home (though north is a little bit faster) of course we went south. As we rounded the final corner that brought our house in sight at the rounding of yet another one, we passed a couple we had seen earlier, before the rainbow and the rain. “Worth the squall!” the woman exclaimed.

Unlike most people, I rarely take my phone out with me on a walk. I like to just enjoy the moments as they come, and play with Cotton without worrying where my phone is or if I should hurry up and take a photo. I’m not particularly good at hurrying up and doing anything, so in slow miracle fashion, I simply don’t. I leave it to my son to catch me or Cotton in photos and film when he’s here.

But this rainbow made me walk into the house for my phone. I’d never seen anything as big and bright that lasted as long. Even though I knew I would not be able to reproduce what I was actually seeing, I still wanted to see what I could get.

I took many photos, trying to get the best fragment of the rainbow I could muster, in the best light. When I looked at them, the color was so pale in comparison; some of the rings were barely visible at all and it looked much farther away than it did when I put my phone aside and simply looked. I chalked it up to the usual old iphone photo disappointment and went on with the evening.

But the next morning when I looked at the photos again, I saw something else. In the one above in particular, I saw not the high definition of the rainbow itself, but the unmistakable fact that the colors of it were aglow in the backlit trees, roofs, houses and pavement below it. The view from the end of my driveway was aglow in the must subtle array of light from its spectrum. In that moment I understood that though I could not capture the vividness of the rainbow itself, that vividness had been absorbed by surroundings and transformed them. The photograph reflected that transformation back to me, which was something I would have otherwise missed in my disappointment at not having the capacity to take what I had considered at the time an “accurate” photograph. The fact that I had decided to try in the face of what seemed like inevitable failure had brought me a magic just as compelling and more surprising than I could have imagined.

I am grateful for moments that transport, like the afternoon Cotton and I seemed to walk under a rainbow. And now, when I look at that photograph, I see I have two choices. I can see that I failed to reproduce exactly what I saw and felt in those moments, or I can see something I would have otherwise missed; that  the whole of my surroundings was infused with the light from that rainbow. All of it was in a state of wonder along with me. The rainbow existed not only in the heavens but saturated everything below it.

My friend who built the masonry stove in my house on Asbury Street and I once had a conversation as he laid the bricks of it long ago about whether it was better to be surprised and enlightened or to be right. I  said that although I was often right, I’d pick “surprised and enlightened,” over being right, because that’s when I most often learned something new or got to laugh, or both.

Next time I’m prone to predicting inevitable failure or disaster, either on a personal or more public scale, and all signs seem to point to me being right,  I like to think I’ll find the grace to humble myself to try anyway, and that maybe, just maybe, I’ll get a surprise about what there is to see, and learn,  and what wonder. what possibility will be new.

Maria (moonwatcher)


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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tera February 29, 2020 at 9:09 pm

Your rainbow is so beautiful. Few months ago i saw a double rainbows for first time in my life. Thanks god the he has everything for us to see and enjoy it.


2 Maria Theresa Maggi March 2, 2020 at 8:57 am

So glad you enjoyed it, Tera! 🙂


3 Gena March 2, 2020 at 4:40 am

What important thoughts for our uncertain times! I couldn’t agree more that a sense of wonder and openness to the possibility of things being different than we think (or fear) that they will be is an important life skill. It’s one that I work on all the time, as I’m all too good at limiting ideas. Thank you for sharing your own willingness to be surprised and enlightened with me, and with us <3



4 Maria Theresa Maggi March 2, 2020 at 8:57 am

It truly is my pleasure and honor Gena–just as I always love reading your insights about such things. xoxo


5 Colleen March 13, 2020 at 2:17 pm

Beautiful and profound. Grateful to read this now when it is especially important to not limit my perception to the obvious and sad. Thank you, Maria.


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