Opinion Forum

Fear of a lightning strike has me lying to my dogs

A prominent local citizen recently survived the blast of a lightning strike while in that usually safest of places, home. Whatever other good things may have happened in his life, this amazingly good luck must surely be near the top of the list. The victim of the strike, Mark Cantrell, didn’t attribute it to luck. He said, “The Lord blessed me.” I’d say so.

As a youngster, I understood that lightning could kill me, but I still took too many chances. In the country, when a storm approached in late afternoon, as storms often did, there were chores that had to be finished hurriedly before the rain came. I might flinch at the flash and crack of a lightning strike, but I had to complete my mission. And, to be honest, there were times when I simply wanted to hang outside a little longer, not for any serious purpose, regardless of the coming storm. But when the strikes seemed too close, I sought the safety of home.

One afternoon my older brother and I got home from school to find everyone gone. A storm began as we hurried into the old farmhouse. We rounded up food for our after-school snack and sat down across from each other at the kitchen table to eat. My brother, five years older than I, was sitting with his back to the wall of the main part of the house, facing me and the kitchen window. My back was to that window. I stood up to get more food, and at that moment three things seemed to happen in the same instant. A crash came like the end of the world. My brother, seated, dodged to his left. I, standing and facing him, dodged to my left. A streak of fire shot through the top of the kitchen wall behind my brother, angling down to the table. Riding on it was a ball of fire slightly smaller than a basketball. The ball appeared to bounce off the center of the kitchen table, bounce past my right shoulder, and disappear at the window.

I’m reporting what my mind registered, realizing that the play of lightning can be misleading. I’ve read that a streak of lightning, appearing quite large, is really only about the width of a quarter, its display magnified by its brilliance. So, no, I don’t claim there was an actual ball of fire nearly as large as a basketball bouncing off the kitchen table, but I claim that’s what my mind registered in the moment. More amazing, though, neither my brother nor I was injured in the slightest. Terrified, yes, but not injured.

It was a time when many country families, not yet blessed with electricity, had battery radios connected to what was called an “aerial,” a thin wire running from the back of the radio out a window or other exit spot, and up through the air to the top of a pole in the yard. This aerial pulled in the signal. An old aerial had been left, with no radio connected, running up not to a pole but to the top of an oak tree in the yard. It had provided an enticing route for the lightning, seeking contact with the ground. It had streaked down the aerial, smashed through the outer wall of the house and through the interior wall of the kitchen, flashed between two boys who somehow lurched in the right direction, and dissipated.

While that long-ago experience reinforced my appreciation for the power of lightning, fortunately it didn’t leave me with an unnatural fear of it. It did, though, leave me with the understanding that there is no totally safe place in an electrical storm, even the sanctuary of home. When we have these storms, which seems to happen often, my two dogs often bark nervously at the noise or whimper a bit. I try to reassure them by telling them it’s okay, nothing will happen to them, they’ll be totally safe here in our house. I try not to let them see my face when I’m saying this. I believe that if dogs can see your eyes when you talk to them, they will know if you’re lying.

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