87: Lightning Up My Life

87: Lightning Up My Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

Lightning Up My Life

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

~Thornton Wilder

In August of 2008, I was struck by lightning as I sat quietly and reflectively by a river not far from my home. It’s something that happens to someone else, right? Still, it was me in the ambulance and in the ER, though nothing seemed real. As tubes went into my arm, scans were done of my head, and EKG readouts ticked by, I overheard the trauma surgeon say, “ . . .back from the dead.” Me? Dead? No, no! Impossible!

I don’t remember being hit but I do remember vividly a desperate attempt to breathe — like coming up from a deep pool and struggling to reach the top to take in air. I remember a burning sensation throughout my body and an inability to see, hear or speak. As those senses gradually returned, the glimpse of blue sky and the sound of birds, for a moment anyway, completely numbed the pain. I was alive. I could take in the sweetness around me. I was joy!

Fully grasping what had happened, however, took place slowly and was laced over the next few months with tears, questions, fear, wonder and, finally . . . a journey into depths of gratitude and awareness that cannot be described with our limited vocabulary. I remember thinking to myself . . .“Who was the last person I spoke with?” “When was the last time I said I love you?” “When was the last time I said I was sorry?” “What do I do now?”

Throughout that first night in the hospital, I forced myself to remain awake, alert, and aware of every detail, every sound, every face, every smell and every thought. Just two weeks before I was hit, two young college students were hit just blocks from my home and both died. Visitors and nurses kept saying how lucky I’d been. “Lucky” didn’t even come close to what I was feeling. Nothing would ever be the same again and whatever “luck” may have been associated with the event was partnered with a new sense of accountability for this blessing we know as life.

Drinking a glass of water felt like sipping from an ancient and healing biblical wellspring. Eating became sacrament. Walking felt like dance and the support of friends felt like the warm communion of angels. Waiting for test results and so many unanswered questions could have overshadowed the elation that I felt, but all of that didn’t stand a chance. One chapter of my life had ended — literally and actually. I don’t remember my “first birth,” but I definitely remember the second.

Since that day, I cry easily and I laugh boldly and often. I’ve lightened (no pun intended) my “things” load by going through all of the stuff that crowded my rooms and shelves. How liberating it is to give away excess possessions and know that they will brighten someone else’s life. Spending as much time as I can with family and friends is top priority. I don’t text or tweet. Instead, I phone or visit. I hug openly and listen to the stories of others without judgment or critique. I watch wildlife and learn new lessons every day about patience, simplicity and community. When I see the sun rise or set, I wonder how many people at that very moment appreciate the miracle of each day. Each morning brings new meaning to the term “resurrection” as I wake from the little death of sleep. And, each evening there is so much gratitude when slipping into the night’s dark mystery.

No one really knows the long-term effects of a lightning strike. My right shoulder will never completely heal and, strange as it may sound, I’m grateful for that. Its limitations remind me of the gift I’ve been given. I’m conscious of what I eat and how I honor this body-on-loan with exercise and rest. I take time to reflect and I pay more attention now to things I used to put on the back burner . . . sketching, writing, storytelling and music. Forever insatiable when it came to learning, I take classes and workshops more often and deliberately seek out those that will challenge my intellect, widen my world and deepen my understanding. I appreciate more than ever the multiple realities in our world and the richness they add to the expansion of our own humanity.

Volunteering has become huge in my life and my joy in it is boundless.

As with any life, be it the “first one” or one given in grace following a trauma, there are predictable moments of frustration, disappointment, loneliness, confusion, doubt, fear . . . . They’re just part of the “human package.” I feel those moments and the pain that comes with them. Are they any less painful since the lightning strike? No. Are they any less frequent than before? No. Nothing is numb and I never want it to be again. I don’t know that I have ever before felt so completely “in my skin” and “in my heart and soul.” How could there possibly be a turning back?

I have also discovered a place — a “room” — deep inside me that either went unrecognized before the strike, or that was added on afterward. It’s a soulful room that I can visit in complete confidence. There is new insight there, and there is a peace that was not there before August of 2008. I find in that gentle room a broader capacity for compassion and patience. I find a warm reassurance that no pain lasts forever. I’m reminded in that special place that hope is accessible in any given moment, and that each moment of each and every life is a rebirth full of possibilities.

“Know that wisdom is such to your soul; if you find it, there will be a future, and your hope will not be cut off.” (Proverbs) It would be great if gaining wisdom and awakening didn’t necessarily mean getting fried! I wouldn’t wish a lightning strike on anyone, but I am so deeply grateful for what I have learned as the result of my getting whacked. I recount the story and its lessons in workshops I give and it’s been an inspiration for retreats I facilitate. I often get teased that I “probably don’t need a lamp to light up a room!” My electric bill says otherwise. Nevertheless, “letting my little light shine” is a morning mantra!

Life is full of surprises. Some are little and subtle, others are enormous and can split a tree! Being struck by lightning, dying and being revived have certainly awakened me to the joy in life. I am more alive than I ever was before I died!

~Dale Mary Grenfell

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