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Commusings: When Lightning Strikes by Jeff Krasno

Jan 03, 2021

A hot white light encased me as a crystal vase shattered inside my head. Gone as fast as it came, this vivid encounter completely enveloped my entire being. 

Last Sunday night, I lay in bed in the melancholic alpenglow of Christmas, knackered and bloated from holiday revelry. I was pondering the content of this very essay, mulling over resolutions, both personal and general, and their relationship to human potential. I was mentally dusting off my Maslow and his hierarchy of needs as rain began pattering like mice feet on the rooftop. Candidly, I felt a bit fallow, all my ideas harvested, milled, baked, sliced and served. My mind cast about for droplets of inspiration to sponge up.

The drizzle had become a downpour. It hadn’t rained but a spit since April in Los Angeles. Now, the heavens opened. God’s pent-up grief undammed in the waning verses of a most epic, if tragic, year. In the hot, dry climes of California, the first rains are an occasion for rejoicing. For years now, fire season has been merciless. This celebration, as you will read, was pre-mature. 

Thunder echoed sonorously through the canyon. As a kid, I remember counting between the flashes of lightning and the ensuing rumblings, five seconds for every mile. These lapses registered about a four and then a two. 

And then, in the flick of a switch, Thor unleashed his fury and the world literally exploded around me. A massive bolt of lightning slapped our house with such intensity that it eclipsed all other discernible phenomena. It jolted us from bed. I patted myself down to make sure I was actually still corporally there. The kids, wide-eyed in shock, burst down the stairs. It was undoubtedly the most intense sensory experience I’ve ever had, the present moment in hyperbolized relief. 

As the initial astonishment subsided, we huddled together in edgy laughter. And then the fire alarms began to sound. Almost indiscernible, serpentine streams of smoke slithered into the house. Schuyler and I corralled the children into the dry safety of the car and returned back inside. There were no obvious flames. We rummaged through the rooms trying to identify the elusive source. 

The smoke thickened into a toxic haze that was acrid on the tongue. I darted into my closet and tossed essentials into a backpack. I had never really considered what I’d jam into a small sack if that’s all I had. Wallet, car keys, passport, cash, wedding ring, this laptop, the watch my dad gave me for graduating college – a sundry amalgam of my identity. 

We scurried down the steps back toward the car. And, as we descended, the thought struck me like … The crawl space under the house! We crowbarred the small door open with our fingers and flames burst forth. To our great fortune, there was an impeccably positioned garden hose nearby. Schuyler grasped the nozzle and I ran to the spigot. In a few minutes the fire was doused. No sooner had we extinguished the fire than four massive engines from the LAFD barreled up the street, sirens blaring. The gladiators disembarked laden with axes and fire hooks and finished the job. 

Then the firemen left. And there we were: Schuyler, Phoebe, Lolli, Micah and me. 2am. Sopping wet from rain but without water. Adrenalized by a gigajoule of electricity yet without a working lamp. The twisted irony of fucking 2020, a year when even the rain brings fire. 

I posted a little video on the affair. Honestly, I didn’t think much of it. But, the next morning, I was humbled to read hundreds of beautiful comments from well-wishers, friends I hadn’t heard from in years expressing relief that the family was safe. In particular I noticed a few supportive comments from people with whom I have vociferously quarreled on social media. My online squabbles, like most people’s, tend to be political in nature. I always make best efforts not to be disagreeable in my disagreement. There’s one fellow, let’s call him Redpill Frank, who is constantly posting memes about the Kraken, Biden’s pedophilia, how COVID is a hoax, and on. He is particularly harsh on immigrants and was obsessed with the Soros-funded “caravan.” I attempt to gently remind him that unless he is Native American or his family was brought to this country against their will, then he also shares an immigrant story. I get nowhere and oftentimes it devolves. But, there he is, in my comments, sending me “best wishes.” Somehow, lured outside the invective by the story of our misfortune, Frank found compassion. 

Many people throughout history have considered lightning a divine and mystical event. I hate to discredit this myth, but, in reality, it resembles more of a fire in the cellar. There have been no celestial seraphim sightings. Instead, a multitude of pot-bellied, balding men with clipboards are parading onto our property, muttering about the structural integrity of our house. 

I suppose Maslow will have to wait. It’s challenging for a man to self-actualize without running water. But it’s not impossible to learn something. 

In the deluge of contractors flooding my new year, I met Manuel. He’s the young Oaxacan apprentice to our electrician, Juan. As Juan, surveyed the fondue of wiring under the house, I made Spanglish small talk with Manuel. Evidently, when he came to America three years ago, he left behind his wife and young daughter, Ana, in Santa Catarina. He hasn’t seen them in the flesh since. When I asked, he produced a photo of Ana – not a digital phantom on a screen, but a little 2” x 2” rough-edged snapshot that snuggled in his wallet. She’s learning English, he told me. Manuel lives in Juan’s garage, somewhere near Commerce to the east of downtown. The dubious structural integrity of my house in the canyon suddenly seemed less grave. 

The polarized bickering between left and right on many topics, including immigration, is rarely a profitable project. The left indignantly refers to a statue in a harbor that brandishes an Emma Lazarus poem. It wields accusations of xenophobia. In turn, the right rails against the anarchic tendencies of the left, stereotyping immigrants as criminals, undermining our way of life and pilfering our jobs. This tête-à-tête ends inevitably in a cul-de-sac. I wonder if we might find the brave space behind the invidious barbs to ask the question: What are the ground conditions that exist that would compel Manuel to leave his country, his beloved family and his identity for a strange land with an unknown language that likely doesn’t want him? I want to ask him this, but I have not the words. 

The voltage struck the roof, assumedly the lightning rod, and traveled down through the wiring and copper pipes of the house seeking ground. In its quest, it blew the valves off the irrigation piping creating a series of non-decorative garden fountains shooting streams of water to and fro. This is proving to be quite a difficult project to repair. Sergio, bless his heart, is grappling with a plumber’s version of whack-a-mole, in the dark, with a head lamp – just so my family can have water again. He is a portrait of diligence. In gratitude, Schuyler brings him tea. 

After a laborious day of insurance claims and associated red tape, I thought of my political sniping partner, Frank. He’s got a daughter, one who he sees every day. Maybe instead of sparring with him about immigration, I’ll just relay the story of Manuel, not with the purpose of shaming him but, in the hopes that we may discover a shared humanity. This may point our dialogue toward solutions and away from rancor. 

If we can warm our hearts in each other’s human stories instead of codifying our positions like ice cubes in a tray, then perhaps we can melt into each other. By asking the question behind the argument, perhaps we can address the disease behind the symptom. Stories can be a lightning rod for connection. In each other’s stories, we glimpse a bit of our own. And, in our shared fears of the uncertain, in our common joys, loves and worries, we are a little bit less alone. 

You may be familiar with the old supernatural Hollywood motif: an otherwise normal protagonist gets struck by lightning and develops superpowers. I have received dozens of inquiries into the nature of my newly acquired capacities. I hate to disappoint but I remain unable to generate electrical energy and project it as concentrated bolts from my hands. But perhaps I can project a healing energy, in the form of stories, from my pen. My superpower, and yours, too, may be storytelling. And as I peer into a new year with its requisite resolutions, I am reminded that I don’t need to manifest any thing into my life, I simply need to manifest who I already am – a teller of tales. 

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Commusings is a curious and contemplative commentary on the current and timeless from Commune Co-founder Jeff Krasno (and occasional guest writers). These weekly writings help us envision a collective path forward through deep thinking, quiet listening, and honest conversations about spirituality, philosophy, and culture. Subscribe to the weekly Commusings newsletter here.

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