The train ticket for a ride that began 28 years prior…

A professor entered the dusty lecture hall at noon, five minutes after class had begun. The ceilings were so high that light barely touched them despite the four enormous, arched windows facing to the East. The students murmured quietly as the professor had a tendency of coming in late. But due to his vast collection of honorary degrees (which were seven doctorates in all), the students never minded waiting for his lectures. Professor Darkbane had a twin brother that disappeared a few years ago, leaving much to be suspect of Darkbane since the two never had a good familial ties. Despite the odd transition, Darkbane was appointed to a professorship just after Dr. Brightside went missing.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Darkbane completed setting up his laptop and projector and launched into a discourse.

“Four days ago, a tornado swept through the Omaha area, leaving a customary trail of destruction. The interesting thing about this storm cell wasn’t the tornado, how it was formed, or even the destruction but rather the events that led up to the tornado’s entry and subsequent happening thereafter.”

“When tropical air gets a little too close to some very cold, even arctic, air – the warmer air at higher elevations starts to mix with the colder air at lower elevations, beginning a horrible dance. As the fronts push together, the energy from the two masses of air collide, causing a counter-clockwise (or cyclonic) rotation of the clouds. As this new mass gains energy, electrons, and speed – the result is usually a tornado – or five. What makes these tornado-creating storms is that the energy/air temperature always varies, meaning a sharp difference in the amount of threat it can generate. In other words, the storms may not produce anything at all even though it may look HUGE or the storm may be threatening and, indeed, produce seven tornadoes in the span of an hour over the course of three states.”

A boy in the front began snoring a bit too loudly. A girl next to him gestured to the professor to whether or not she should wake him. The professor shook his head. “If I’m too boring, let him sleep. But I want none of you to help him come Exams. Those who do not wish to learn should not.” And to the student’s surprise, Darkbane smiled. For such an ominous name, the brother of the somewhat menacing Brightside possessed a very patient demeanor.

He continued with his discourse. “You never know. Now that you’re expert meteorologists – the next thing to note is the signs of a tornado. One, the sky becomes VERY dark, almost with a green hue to it. Two, there is little to no wind. In the plains of this nation, the absence of any wind or breeze can be extremely noticeable and, as it turns out, extremely dangerous. Three, all natural sounds cease. You can’t hear any crickets nor any birds. It’s almost dead silent before a tornado is about to hit. Why? For whatever reason, insects and animals can detect the pressure change caused by those warm and cold fronts clashing and they know in their tiny brains that SOMETHING FREAKIN’ BIG IS COMING. And they get out.”

The lecture hall of four hundred students gave a light chuckle. The professor smiled, affirmed in his humor.

“Now that we all know everything there is to know about tornadoes – the strange part. For whatever reason, the tornado that ripped through the Omaha area was followed by a band of INTENSE rain. When I say INTENSE, I’m talking about total-downpour-can’t-see-should-pull-over kind of rain. To recap – to the east is a tornado, moving somewhat slowly for a tornado and directly “behind” it, to the west, was a band of rain moving eastward as well. The result? Cars driving eastbound had no idea there was a tornado in front of them due to the downpour. Vehicles were driving right into a tornado – and they didn’t even know it. Dozens of cars were flipped over, tossed around, and spun back onto the highway and into ditches. I didn’t check to see if there were any fatalities, but the news alone was enough to shake me. The thought of driving into a tornado absolutely horrifies me. They are so massively powerful and erratic, causing millions of dollars in damage every year. Even more frightening is that these swirling cones of chaos no longer seemed constrained to the plains of the United States. The once-safe mountain communities are now beginning to experience the fear of twisters. In northwestern Montana last summer, a tornado formed and landed in the Flathead Valley region, doing severe damage to the town of just south of Kalispell. The area has NEVER been hit by a tornado – ever. Well, until now. Just a couple weeks ago a tornado went through the eastern part of Colorado. Perhaps the Earth is getting violent in her old age…”

A young man in the back stands up.

“Sir, you always do this to us. You give us a poignant title on the iWeb and then almost give us whiplash by yanking us in another direction. Why on earth did you spend most of your discourse on tornadoes? You can’t possibly have found some meaning to life in the development and destruction of tornadoes.”

Darkbane motions for the boy to return to his seat.

“On the contrary, my good man, it has everything to do with my train ticket from 28 years ago. It’s the train ticket that my father bought to eventually meet my mother at the college where they began dating. And after an impassioned night, the same train ticket sent him on a course to which he never returned. The train derailed, killing all passengers, including my father. Nine months later, I was born. We never know. We never ever know. The events transpiring with the people unknowingly riding into a potentially deadly tornado presented itself to me as a paradigm of life, resonating with the death of my father. We all drive on the road of life, whether to point A or point Z, it doesn’t matter. And there are always storms that rear their heads, for whatever reason. And, as this storm illustrated, there is something absolutely terrible on the other side of the storm. Other times, there is nothing but clear sky on the other side. It varies every time. The point? You never knew know when it’s going to be a tornado or clear sky. Because we can never know, you should NEVER take your drive as a joke. Take life seriously. There could be a tornado waiting for you, just out of sight. The people that survived that ordeal were lucky, for sure, but I think we can learn a deep lesson from this event. The people who truly live do so with the knowledge of tornadoes. There really wasn’t any way to prepare for that tornado, was there? Sure, they could have called to someone near a computer to check the radar or had the weather station on – but that wouldn’t stop most people. With no way to avoid it, the question really becomes, “Are you ready to die?” Really, are you ready to die? If not, my good sir, then you will never really live. If you are afraid to die, you will never risk anything, you will never appreciate what you have today, you will never relish in the fact that you are who you are and that you are unique amongst every other person in this existence. If you are afraid, there is no way for you to experience life to its fullest.”

Silence pervaded every corner of that lecture all. Even the ticking of the clock on the wall with the hands that never seem to align correctly ceased its ticking. A pencil dropped by a jock on the 10th row broke the trance-like silence.

“You need to understand this – all of this – to insure your well-being. A man who does not live is just dying one day at a time. We are all dying, but some of faster than others. And I don’t mean those who are ill.”

With that, Darkbane shut down his laptop and turned off the projector. “Notes for the exam will be posted to iWeb on Wednesday. Please review them for the test on Friday. Have a good day, all.”

The students sat speechless, not fully comprehending what just happened. Darkbane gathered his coat and briefcase and headed for the door, turning at the very last moment to say, “You are all bright people. Please, contemplate what was said here today. Please. I’ll see you all tomorrow. You’re dismissed.”

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~ by Zechariah on June 2, 2008.

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