The Lightning Strike That Burned Through My Family
My mother’s body, one in a million, became a conduit for lightning, and, three months later, it became a conduit for me.
In ancient traditions of self-analysis like ayurveda and astrology, humans look to their physical makeup and the sky to better understand their personalities and potential. Universal archetypes, developed over thousands of years to express the human condition and passed down through storytelling, are embedded in our consciousness and offer insight, like a mirror we can use to search for our place within the collective. In both traditions I am largely composed of fire. Symbolically, fire represents heat, inspiration, and action, which, along with lightning, have shaped my life like a blessing and a curse.
Encountering rage at home as a child prompts a variety of responses, all disorienting, and each one exposing parts of yourself you didn’t know were there. Though I felt timid and fearful, sometimes detached, at home, I frequently slipped into the only means of response that felt anything like protection: fighting back.
“How does it feel to ruin our lives?” I screamed, more often than I care to admit.
I hurled insults at my mother, desperate to wake her up, deflect her wrath, bring her back from fury. In those moments it only pushed her further away.
As the National Weather Service puts it, “A person struck by lightning becomes part of the main lightning discharge channel.”
The same can be true for children in unhappy situations; they learn to mistake anger for power before they can even walk.
There was a famous ranger who worked at Shenandoah National Park in the mid-twentieth century named Roy Sullivan. According to several reports, Roy survived seven lightning strikes. He lived his life a walking magnet for the sky. Fellow rangers were scared to be near him when it rained, and his iconic park hats were known to spontaneously burst into flame during storms, so he carried a bucket of water everywhere he went. Eventually, Roy took his own life––not by standing outside in a storm, but with a gun. Lightning’s curse had become too much to bear.
Like many of its victims, I survived multiple lightning strikes. My mother’s anger, which may have been caused, at least in part, by her supernatural event, left aftereffects I never would have chosen. I burned hot. I burned out. Sometimes I hurt the people I loved most because I, like my mother, lived in fear. After years of looking within, and following in Roy’s footsteps, I learned to carry a bucket of water around to put my fires out. Today, I can see storms coming and seek shelter before they cause any harm.
My mother’s body, one in a million, became a conduit for lightning, and, three months later, it became a conduit for me. It may take a lifetime, or several, to understand the role lightning played in our lives, but for now I know I was shaped by my father’s choices, my mother’s pain, and my own attempts at being glue. The anger in our household made life hard, but without it––without lightning itself––I would not be here at all.
If the world is as enchanted as I sometimes think it is, maybe lightning is the cause, a kind of electric charge that helps me make meaning from the chaos. Despite its challenges, despite my family’s legacy of depression and anger, these repeated firebolts have given me a new perspective on myself. In nature, lightning destroys. It sets things on fire. But as it ignites, it inspires and creates conditions for new life. In this case, the new life is mine.
By examining these truths, the foundational darknesses of our lives pitted against light, my mother and I have been redeemed. Cleansed by fire and forced to reckon with ourselves. Seeds long dormant, almost lost on the scorched forest floor, have germinated and are beginning to bud. Revitalizing our biological roots, those impossibly tangled but vital, nourishing threads, has prepared us for growth. Everything is possible now: Together, we have chosen a future that is less controlled by storms.