Transcendence: The Tornado

Each week, we’ll look at another example of what I call a “moment of transcendence” – a scene from a show, a passage from a book, or anything else, that I find soul-piercingly resonant: joyful, sad, awe-inspiring, terrifying, or whatever. These moments are highly subjective, so you may not feel the same way I do, but nevertheless I’ll try to convey why I find the fragment so powerful. I hope we can enjoy it together.

This is my favorite TV commercial of all time:

A great storm has descended on the Great Plains. A girl stands in front of her house, staring forward, awestruck, oblivious to her father’s shouts. Fighting the wind, he rushes out, picks her up, and takes her to safety. Even as she is carried away, she can’t stop staring. She has seen a tornado, descended from on high, screaming across their quiet land like a black serpent of heaven.

Very often – almost always, I think – moments of transcendence are moments of unveiling. Everything in life is veiled, masked in drab exterior, sometimes for secrecy but usually just by default, because it’s normal for things (and people) to hide their true character. We glimpse inside only in brief flashes of revelation, and our minds clutch these precious insights like diamonds.

Nature is that way. Most of the time it’s calm, even dull, and we may think of nature as just another creature we’ve domesticated. And then one day the veil slips, and we catch just a glimmer of the beast underneath, something big as a planet, feeding on oceans, breathing winds the size of countries, still rolling in the same great cycles it has followed for numberless aeons.

Years ago, I read a forum post about this commercial. Somebody said it was ridiculous, that the girl was an idiot for standing outside in such obvious danger. The comment is interesting for two reasons.

First, it demonstrates the wildly divergent opinions that different people can have about the same work of art. For me, this video is so beautiful that I struggle to find words to express it. For him (or her), it’s garbage. Many things are sacred, but no one thing is sacred to everyone.

Second, it’s a valid point: standing outside watching a tornado is, from a certain viewpoint, stupid. That’s one of the side effects of beauty, of enchantment. It distorts logic, elevates the heart, confuses the mind. It makes you do stupid things. The “smart” thing is to stay indoors, increase your chance of survival, never look directly at a storm.

Except then you have to ask – what, exactly, are you surviving for?

If you have thoughts about the commercial, or wish to share a transcendent moment of your own, leave a comment!

2 responses to “Transcendence: The Tornado

  1. What is the commercial advertising? I would like to see if I can find it on YouTube. Hard to say how I would feel about it from your description.

    • It’s for the U.S. Air Force. The clip is embedded in the post, but I seem to remember that your browser doesn’t handle that well. If I try to give you the URL here, it’ll just create another embedded clip, so just google Air Force We’ve Been Waiting For You and click the one with the tornado.

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