Lightning’s been on my mind lately, as so many fires in my home state have started with a bolt from the sky. Ironically, today marks the end of Lightning Safety Awareness Week in Colorado, after a busy June in which lightning started way too many fires. When the waking world manifests a phenomenon in ways that get my attention, I can’t help but think about the metaphorical resonances.
Like the sudden and surprising death of a beloved relative. Though I’m certainly of an age when I shouldn’t be surprised by the passing of older relatives, some feel more like a bolt out of the blue than others. This one left me stunned, though I had a week’s warning. I hold her in my heart as I walk the pathways of my daily life, the ordinary moments, like doing laundry, and the extraordinary ones, like packing under pre-evacuation orders eight hours after my daughter had her wisdom teeth removed. Suddenly faced with trying to decide what I could bear to lose and what I couldn’t, it all seemed rather futile. I’m sure I made different choices this time than the last time we considered evacuating our house. Weary of the endless task of sorting another relative’s belongings, and thinking about the fact that when we die, we leave it all here anyway, I found myself just sighing with resignation as I regarded twenty years’ worth of manuscripts, a life-time of correspondence, and left them behind. The manuscripts, for the most part, exist other places, but why I chose to leave the letters that friends and family had written to me and instead packed the letters that my ancestors wrote, I don’t know.
Perhaps it’s just that when lightning strikes, everything changes anyway, and trying to hold on to everything is just a recipe for madness. Still, it’s my natural leaning to hold on, and when the pre-evacuation orders lifted, and we could carry everything back into the house, I settled back into my comfortable routines, grieving and wishing I could bear the pain for those around me.
I remember seeing a film once in school where the narrator explained that a certain Native American language used the word we’d translate as “explosion” to mean any dramatic change, no matter how long the change took. The example was the carving of a tree trunk into a canoe, a process that took many, many hours, but still transformed the log into something different. In that way, all of life is an explosion started with a lightning strike, the Divine energy igniting our beings at conception, so that we burn with life’s fire until we die. Some fires burn hot and fast, some barely catch before they die. Some smolder for decades before burning out.
Some burn so cleanly, so generously, that it’s impossible to believe they’ll ever depart. And yet they do, and in their absence, the world looks dimmer for a while. Our own fires are dampened with grief. Sometimes, the grief pulls us under. Yesterday was the anniversary of my mother’s death. Her passing, long expected, split me open like a bolt of lightning striking a tree. I still echo with reverberations, refreshed now by this latest loss.
Lightning safety tips warn that there’s nowhere safe outdoors in a thunderstorm. Metaphorically, I have to live my life outdoors, where I’m open to the winds of change and the storms of life, and aware of the world around me. I might be safe inside, but I can’t love fully and live life in a safe cocoon. I’d rather be struck by the lightning of grief than to never have known the bright fires of my loved ones.