To be candid, I am not certain about the whole thing. It could be that the contrast of the darkness of the night mattered when the lightning flashed. Perhaps it was simply the shock of the event that is most disturbing. The suddenness, and while not completely unexpected nature of the event, but perhaps the astonishing power of the thing to disrupt is what this is about. Lightning, when it is sharp and close, has this crazy tingling hair and buzzing sound about it that is rudimentary. At its core, a visceral raw nature, a thing that transcends our otherwise normal perception of human power. It leaves us impotent and humbled and in awe.
Lightning is funny stuff. Brightening up the clouds in a summer storm when you see the thing from afar on the horizon. Beautiful in the way that it is flashing through the sky, from place to place. When the storm is closer, and the storm is in your area, it is about the way it is flashing sporadically and randomly in the places and intensity of the flash… and we would count. When we were young, and at times scared, we would count slowly after the flash. Listening for the thunder that told of the distance. The shorter the count, the closer it was. If the count continued to shrink, the storm was getting closer and if the count grew we knew that the worst was done and soon we could go out to play. And so, we would count. And hope. And wait.
The nature of the close lightning strike is the raw power of the disruption. The sizzle of the air, as it took place. The buzz and the electric “zap” of the strike itself, and the knowing that a tree someplace was getting more than it bargained for. Random. In the magnitude, unpredictability of the spot, and the intensity of the strike, all conspire to lend an awe to the entire thing. To live in the country and see it stretch over the horizon, through the valley and off into the distance. Nature is an amazing thing to behold.
The light flashes and you are bathed in it. All of the area is illuminated at once. Casting sharp shadows and showing in piercing relief, that which was hidden only moments ago. This is the only way to describe the call that comes in the night. Random. Unexpected. Variable in intensity depending on the placement. Personal. The ring is disruptive, but the story of the caller is clear, sharp, and real. When it is in the clouds of the distant storms, it is real, but for others. When the call is for you it is your hair that tingles and your eyes that avert. It is your story that changes that day.
Momentarily, the sound of the thunder fades into a dull numbness in the silence of the thing. So loud and close that your ears have shut down due to the proximity and the power and the surprise of the thing. First comes the clarity of the certainty of that which was revealed. “This is real” is indelibly marked in your mind’s eye. It cannot be unseen. It cannot be unknown. And then the thunder. The trembling of the thing reverberating after the awakening. Breathtaking when it is rumbling across the valley… “Without words” when it is next to you… It is curious when it comes. Like you already knew. Few things matter this much, so when it strikes, it is shocking, but only in an odd way. It only matters because it matters, or it wouldn’t, I guess. Perhaps that is the thing about it. If it didn’t matter it would be like the distant storm in another place, for another person. That it is in your world, sharp and loud, it really must matter. Bright and current and illuminating, perhaps for the first time. It could actually happen to you…
Now what? Shock, the ringing in your ears that drowns out the voices that ask of your well-being. The sound of Charlie Brown’s mother from the mouths of your friends, and there you are. Your hair tingling and your skin bumpy and you are immersed in shock. The thunder of the truth rumbling, still fresh, through your bones. Even now you are pondering the call. The one that would make it. What they would say. What you would not hear, and why. Your story is specific. Personal. Now. Still violently vibrating through the valley of your mind. And you are counting. And hoping. And waiting...
In a curious way, your imagination is far more creative than my simple words can be, in the story that you tell yourself. But here is the basic thing; this is all built on tragedy. You don’t get feelings like this about weddings and births and hopes fulfilled. Odd, isn’t it. Only in the tragedy does this manifest its effects in this magnitude. It fills the songbooks of the Blues artist and Country music alike. Tragedy, shock, betrayal, bad diagnosis, deaths, rejections, and on the list goes. Far away, you cannot even hear the rumbling thunder from the lightning you see. Nearby, you may send a card. But when it is your tree struck, your house that is touched by the finger of fate, the story is different. It suddenly is of a different sort. The counting is zero…
There is a maxim that goes,” Poor people have poor ways”. It seems to be self-fulfilling, in a way. Like a stretch of Kansas that has the most tornados, nothing will stop the pattern. Some folks seem to be repeating bad choices that result in a cycle of tragedy. Others are a single strike out of the random part of nature. With a seemingly limitless capacity to be capricious and catch you unaware. The talented and bright-futured youth struck down randomly and unexpectedly in a wreck. The fire that takes the family that were trying to get their act together after so long. The diagnosis, the broken restraining order, the pictures of the betrayal, the drug overdose, the kidnapping and disappearance with no news… except it is in the news and you are alone. You cannot breathe.
And the ringing in your ears that ends in the silence of the numb. Stultifying news. If you were ready, then it would not be such. That it is such, means that you were unprepared. The flash of the lightning reveals. The thunder numbs. There is one more part. Ozone. The crazy part about lightning is the restoration that comes with it. It freshens the air. It doesn’t feel like it when you are the one concussed though. If that is the case, you are not done being numb. If you can smell the fresh aroma of hope, that means you are already on the path to recovery. You are simply limping from the proximity of impact.
Ozone is a curious thing that results from a storm. It is the ripping away of an Oxygen atom from the Nitrogen in the air and forming a third oxygen atom on the normal O2. You can smell it in the air as the storm is still coming. It comes from the lightning-strikes someplace else, and it brings a story of hope. The lighting strikes to light the way. The thunder is to tell others, and the smell of hope is in the air. Hope of renewal and refreshing times. This is the story after the storm is done. You are changed but restored. You will limp, but you can walk. Or you may need to sit and let your ears clear for a bit, and breathe the fresh air, but you know you will continue. The counting tells you that this storm has passed. When the ringing has stopped, perhaps you can then listen to the story of another that has heard the thunder. After the lightning strike has illuminated their world. You can tell of the joy of the restoration of that lightning. You can breathe again. This time slower. And more regular. Breathe...
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