Lessons from a Lightning Strike

Eighteen days ago, I was struck by lightning.

Not directly, of course—I’m not dead, or even injured. But it was an intense experience, and it truly terrified me, so I want to write about it.

I knew the storm was coming. It was going to be a big one—Texas springs are famous for huge thunderstorms. Sam had to be across town for a teachers meeting for his school. On the drive home, the sun began to set, and we watched the thunderheads build up behind the Dallas skyline. We marveled at the contrast between the lights of downtown and the lightning flickering in the distance.

When we got home, I immediately went to go lie down in bed. The change in air pressure that comes with an approaching storm system always makes my head hurt. As I settled in to watch TV, I pulled up a weather radar on my laptop and set it up on the bed next to me so I could keep an eye on it. Over the next few hours, I watched the storm work its way east through Fort Worth on its way to Dallas.

When I noticed the reports of hail, I put on my shoes and coat and went outside to move our car into the garage. The wind was already starting to pick up in gusts that nudged me this way and that. Our street, usually crowded with children playing at dusk, was abandoned. The sky had turned a deep orange, the city lights reflected in the low cloud cover. I turned west, hearing the distant rolls of thunder.

I felt a thrill of excitement—almost nostalgia. I love rain. We hadn’t had any in a while. I grew up in the west Texas desert, where class stopped and everyone rushed to the windows when it rained to exclaim their delight at any sign of a downpour. Rain was like a holiday. Rain was a gift. Here in Dallas, we get more rain, but still, anytime it starts raining, I still go find Sam wherever he is in the house and tell him it’s raining, like he doesn’t already know, like he needs to know, because that’s what we always did. It’s tradition.

I closed the garage door with a loud slam and locked it. My head pounded. I made my way back to the bedroom, glancing at the glass barometer on the wall. The water was hovering near the top of the spout, threatening to spill over. Low pressure. This storm would be bad.

I crawled back under the covers, and the tapping rhythm on the roof began. I listened to the skylight above the tub in our bathroom: first little drops, then big drops, then hail. I imagined the skylight bursting open and letting all the rain in, filling up the tub with water and glass. The thunder arrived in full force and, on its heels, the lightning.

Soon, it was half past eleven, and my husband, Sam, came in to get ready for bed. He was lying next to me when it happened.

First, the noise, so loud we almost didn’t hear it. A crack, a bang. A bomb. An explosion. A cannon, right above us, in the bed with us.

The light above us swelled, like a balloon blown too big—a light that had been off a second ago, suddenly too bright. And then it burst. Every light in the house seemed to pop all at once.

At the same time, we felt the electric charge rush through us. I felt the tingling shock, a cool fire, spread from my head to my toes. All the hair on my arms and neck prickled. An iron fist grabbed my heart and jerked it. I felt it skip like—for a moment—it forgot what to do. The air left my lungs, and then I drew it back in a painful gasp.

Darkness. I clutched for Sam in the blindness, burying my face in his chest, shaking uncontrollably, crying, “What was that? What was that? Was that lightning? Did it hit our house?”

“We’re okay, we’re okay,” he said, his voice shaking, too. “It hit the roof. We’re okay.”

I got out of bed, switching on the flashlight on my phone. My next thought was even more terrifying than the first.

“Is our house on fire?”

I shone the flashlight out the back door. It was still pouring rain.

“I don’t think so. I don’t know.” Sam was petting Sadie, our dog, and flipping light switches on and off with no luck.

After clearing my head for a moment, I noticed a beeping noise. We rushed to the smoke detector, but that wasn’t it. I smelled burning electricity, acrid in my nose. My heart raced. Was there fire in the attic? Was there fire in the walls?

Over the sound of the rain, we traced the beeping to the little travel alarm clock on my bedside table. All the numbers were flickering and flashing, and the battery cover had been blown off. Even though it hadn’t even been plugged in, the electricity in the air had shorted the batteries, causing the burnt smell.

Still, I decided to call 9-1-1. We had no idea what the state of our house was.

The dispatcher immediately redirected me to the fire department. The dispatcher there got our address first and asked me to go look at the roof to check for damage. I put my coat and shoes back on and ventured out into the rain. I imagined the lightning above me consuming me whole, leaving a crater behind. I hunched low to the ground, as if that could protect me.

Several of our neighbors called to me from their porches, having heard the noise. All of their houses were fine. Ours looked like a dark, foreboding cave by comparison. I used our strongest flashlight to sweep light across the house. I saw nothing. I started to feel like I’d overreacted.

Sirens in the distance. Too late to doubt myself now. When the firemen arrived, we let them in and explained what happened. Our house felt so eerie with all the flashlight beams. They checked the attic for smoke and looked in our bedroom where the bolt struck. They decided we weren’t in any danger and left fairly quickly. I’m sure they had many other emergencies to take care of that night. I felt much better once I saw that they weren’t worried.

Sam flipped the circuit breaker, and we assessed the damage. Oven dead. One TV fried. Cables dead. Our PlayStation 3 gone. Worst of all, my work computer with all my business documents wouldn’t turn on. I was devastated.

We moved our mattress into the living room (I was too scared to be in the bedroom while it was still raining), but I couldn’t sleep. I lay awake watching the lightning flicker behind the blinds, growing dimmer as the storm moved on, leaving us.

The next morning, the sun rose brightly. I drove Sam to school quietly, contemplative. My brain was buzzing with what had happened, with anxiety about my computer, with anxiety about all the things I had to do: call the power company, call the landlord, call the internet service provider, call the renter’s insurance . . .

Sam could tell I was shaken up and said a prayer for us before getting out of the car. As I drove away, I switched on the news station on 1080AM. There were lots of stories about flooding in Denton and severe hail damage in Plano. I felt grateful that we had escaped the worst of the hail because the landlord would’ve hated to replace the roof.

Then, the anchor interviewed a man from north Dallas.

“I was lying in bed,” the man said in a thick Texan accent, “and suddenly, there was a huge noise. The power went out, and smoke started pouring out of the air vents.”

I gripped the wheel. The anchor went on to report that there had been several house fires from lightning strikes the previous night. That could’ve been us, no question. We were very lucky. Even with the property damage, it all seems sort of trivial when I consider what could’ve happened.


5 Lessons I Learned from Being Struck By Lightning

  1. GET SURGE PROTECTORS. This could’ve saved us a lot of grief. Just buy them and use them for every outlet that has important electronics plugged into it. Also, there is a difference between a power strip and a surge protector! Only a surge protector will block damage from a storm. The protectors are there for when you aren’t home. If you know a storm is coming and you’re at your house, just unplug everything! Don’t be lazy. Just do it.
  2. NO SUPERPOWERS FOR US. No matter what you see in movies and comic books, being struck by lightning doesn’t give you superpowers. I know, we were disappointed, too.
  3. IT’S JUST STUFF. The lightning strike showed me what’s important. When I thought our house was on fire, I never once worried about our important documents, our pictures, my books, or even my computer. I was only worried about myself, Sam, and our pets in those moments. Nothing else really mattered.
  4. BE HUMBLE. This experience has given me a new sense of humility. If I think about it too long, I start to feel very small. Nature is just so powerful, and I’m weak and tiny by comparison. I have a greater respect for the power of nature, and probably a healthy fear as well.
  5. GOD TREASURES US. I am still in awe of the power of God. I can still remember the force of the lightning in me. I was completely at its mercy. And God is bigger than that! Bigger than the thunder, bigger than the biggest storm, so big I can’t even comprehend it. He could destroy us in a moment, but He protects us. That makes me feel safe.


One thought on “Lessons from a Lightning Strike

Add yours

  1. Callie, yes I’m ten months late commenting on your wonderful essay. You know how much I admire your poetry, fiction, and literary nonfiction. I laughed out loud when I read “I know, we were disappointed, too”–about not receiving super powers from the lightning strike. Your gift of a terrific sense of humor, needed comic relief. One of my friends who works at the City Light Community Ministries was struck by lightning several years ago when he was working in a field. I will take him a copy of your Post. You and Sam stay well. Bob


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