Wicked Good Storms

I love a good storm, thunder booming and lightning crashing around me. It reminds me to live.

lightningI came to that realization the other day when, leaving work, the sky burst open and let loose with a really great reminder. Heading to my car with fresh and sorely needed water rearranging my hairstyle, a bolt — and I do mean bolt — of lightning crashed at the edge of the parking lot, so close I heard it crackle and sizzle, just before all downtown signal lights winked out. A coworker pacing me up until then clutched my arm for a moment and then, unable to contain her fear (but with apologies written on her face), took off running.

I escaped unscathed, albeit a little soggier than normal. But driving home through streets with no signal lights at rush hour, I started thinking about how thunderously wicked storms sometimes serve as good wakeup calls. When lightning is not just visible but visceral, giving life to the hairs on my arms, it gets my attention. It’s as though the thunderous booming has alerted me. Something’s going to happen, it says. Wait for it. Watch for it. Be ready. Be ready.

And then it’s there, and it flings its electric moment into my consciousness, and it scares the bejeezus out of me. If I’m lucky, it really wakes me up, because I’ve learned that I can choose, you know. I can always roll over and fall back asleep — resume my regularly scheduled and programmed life. Or I can breathe deeply in that electrified moment and keep my eyes open for new possibilities, new horizons, new directions, new ideas and beliefs and behaviors and dreams, and, well, simply a new way of being.

My coworker later explained her deathly fear of lightning. A neighbor was electrocuted while retrieving mail from the mailbox, which had been struck. Her fear and respect for lightning is understandable.

Lightning may be very real, and it may be a metaphor for any explosive, destructive event. Both change things. A lightning wakeup call might be the loss of a loved one or friend. It may be the realization that, despite my desire to be this, I haven’t the skill for it. It may be the death of a relationship or the discovery of a betrayal. It may be the sudden remembrance of an unrealized dream that tantalizes. It may be a diagnosis that leaves you gasping for breath at its enormity. Or the realization that life’s rolling along and you’re not where you want to be.

The point is, when lightning strikes, where do we go from there? Do we bury the experience in sleep and our heads in the pillow like an ostrich seeks sand? Or do we breathe deeply, quell the fear and the nerves and the uncertainty and figure out what’s next? We have a choice — we always do — even when it feels as though we don’t.

I saw the final chapter of Harry Potter last night, and what rings true from that classic hero’s journey is this: everything that happened to Harry was a lightning strike. Everything was a game-changing wake up call. And I believe Harry Potter’s message is this: a life well lived arises out of the way we deal with the storms we encounter as we live it. They can be exciting or they can be terrifying, but the choices we make as we emerge from them is what matters, in the end.

(By the way, ostriches don’t really bury their heads in the sand. But they do dig holes in the dirt for their nests, and dip their heads in the holes to turn the eggs. Plus, when an ostrich is in danger but can’t run, it hits the ground and stretches its head and neck flat on the ground. From a distance, it looks as though the ostrich has buried its head in the sand since only the body is readily visible.)

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