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    Thunder, ball of fire and me

I had quite an adventure a couple of days ago.

At the minimun, it looked in fact kind of an adventure at least one completely new to me. I got to see from a very close angle something I had never, ever, seen in my life yet so clearly. We have had some storms recently which are more than welcomed considering the long and intense heatwave of this 2022 summer in France. Storms can be very serious in the Alps and you better show prudence and respect, as I heard it repeated again and again when I was growing up, being the daughter of an Alpine mountain guide and whose passion was “la montagne” and who was also quite an expert on the weather, specifically Alpine weather.

It was late afternoon, and we all knew a storm was coming. I was outside in the garden moving my geraniums to a sheltered place so they would not be destroyed by the wind or hale. For now, there was a sprinkling of rain and the clouds seemed to be coming from the West where Taninges was shrouded in a dark grey mist. But not us, not here, not yet. It started raining more steadily and I got wet and thought I better go inside. I did hear a couple of loud thunder strikes coming from Taninges which is 12 km away. Once inside, I closed very quickly every window and I even closed the wood shades in most of them except on the South side of the chalet (which is usually the most protected one, weather-wise). I ran downstairs and unplugged the main electrical switch. I decided not to take a shower since I have heard it is not prudent in a storm. I changed quickly in my bedroom where the window was closed but one wooden shade was left open so I could see outside, where it was gettig darker by the minute.

I was standing next to the window, looking out.

I was still holding dry socks in my hand, when my “adventure” began. I want to precise that the following events and thoughts all happened at the very same time in a split second in front of me and inside my head:
- I heard the loudest thunder clap I have EVER heard in my life!
- I realized it was right outside my window,
- I saw a huge flame shoot upwards,
- The flame was gone, completely gone, instantaneously,
- I got into a sort of “freeze and wait” mode,
- Staying surprisingly calm thru the whole thing
- Knowing instantly that I was fine, I was not hurt, the window was not cracked, the half closed wooden shade at eye level was not burning either and neither did it seem to have burned marks.

    Storm coming       Lightning       pouring down  

By the time the list just above was over, which took no more than a second, the sky was pouring down buckets of water, actually, what I am saying? It was more like full bathtubs of water. But was lighter. Nevertheless, I stayed indoor, I went around my floor and everything looked fine. I decided to wait till the rain calm down to go outside and check the exact spot where I thought the landing of the ball of fire happened. I thought that possibly the lightning hit the oak tree next to that corner of the house and a big branch must have cracked open, but the tree did not seem unchanged one bit from the window. There is also the corner of an awning right there too, in the yard, sticking out about 4 meters, in front of what is still called “the garage”. I was curious to see if it was damaged since it was so close to the impact spot 5 feet away. Later on, I check and it seemed even more “branlant” (rickety) than before but it was hard to tell.

I thought the truth is that I had never been before so close to a lightning hitting the ground.
I thought about stories I had heard about the ball of fire they can create but I had never seen one.
I thought of Tintin and “The 7 balls of crystal”.
I thought of the lucky fact that I was completely fine…

As I already mentioned, the fact I stayed so calm and composed (and contented) during the whole incident surprised me a lot. In fact, I am quite an expert at worrying, plus I am French and we are very proud of our critical mind, actually since the XVIII century of the great thinkers and philosophers, we believe it has been our “gift to the world” … What can I say, I was raised in a generation that valued intellectual skills more than anything else, whose culture was based on intellectual and intelligent, articulated and educated feats. In growing old and returning to the catholic faith, I understood that there is much more to life than that, so my own bouts of worries or anxiety were greatly mitigated by a strong faith and a complete trust in Christ. Nevertheless, there was no fear during the storm and thunder incident, not before, not during and not afterwards. I did say the Jesus Prayer in the immediate afterwards (when I was standing there completely aware I was fine) and I said numerous prayers of Thanks after going outside and checking every place I could think about. All was well but it made me realized also that it happened 3 feet from where the electricity of the chalet is buried in the earth, en francais: la "prise de terre" and where I used to have a bench because it is a nice spot, sunny in the morning and with a terrific view of Le Criou but the bench fell apart and was never replaced...

I waited for the rain to subside to turn the main power switch back on.

It was then that I understood that I had no more power and I spent a couple of hours on my cell phone with our electrical provider trouble shooting it. Eventually it came back but I was busy doing lots of things anyhow here and there and did not realize that I still had no internet. Later on I understood my cable box was completely fried because I forgot to unplug the phone line and the following morning, I went to the Orange shop in Cluses and got a new one.

I also heard the following day that thunder and lightning fell in the village and especially in the campground, which is about two miles below my chalet, separated by a forest, and that there were some electrical damages which took all of the following day to fix.

Reflecting more on the fact that:
1) I stayed calm throughout the whole thing and
2) I was exceptionally productive and efficient and contented for the rest of that day!
Therefore I had this idea later on that it was possible that I had been touched in some tiny ways by the enormous electrical surge outside my window and right there was the reason for becoming suddenly so serenely smart! It made me laugh to think about this so I understand it might not be a good scientific explanation, but didn’t we used electroshocks to calm down the agitated and/or wake up the lethargic ones? I have to admit that I saw “One flew over the cuckoos nest” recently on French TV. I had read the book and saw the movie years ago and loved both. But watching Jack Nicholson dubbed in French was quite a treat and would put anyone in an instant good mood!

As the days passed, this incident of mine did not look like such a big deal, although I still remember the flame extremely clearly. My daughter asked me if the flame was going up or down and I think it was up, but it was possible it did sort of bouncing back up. It does not matter much. I did think that my guardian angel was right next to me even before the storm and is the true source of my peacefulness! I did pray from gratefulness right afterwards.

One of my cousins used to say regularly “What did we learn from all of this?”

She was a teacher and along the wonderful years I had the priviledge to know her, I liked that question and I decided along the way that it was a very good instrospective habbit. So I pondered about me seeing that flame on that particular storm. I thought that the power of nature is truly amazing and exists to remind us of our own limitations, and that I should have unplugged the land line when I unplugged the electrical power. Hopefully I will remember that next time. I also thought that I happen to live in an age where we are tempted to think we can control it all and how quickly – in a split second - this arrogant attitude can be swept away.

Nature can be a source of beauty and serenity, this I know and want to express through my own photos of nature, in the Alps or in Northern California, since I split my time between these two beautiful geographical locations. I also see “nature” as the created world by God and I found it funny - and interesting - that insurance agencies still look at damage from lightning as an “Act of God”…

There is a very challenging aspect in knowing that reality is a mix of nature and faith, in the awareness that God’s creation exists as our own eyes can see it (or other senses such as smell/hear/touch), side by side with our own reason within our mind to grasp it and articulate it. In my adventure, the amazing speed at which it all happened was jarring. The quiet unfolding of daily life can become the complete opposite in a dramatic moment, and the challenge for the believer is to accept them all as a blessing, even if we can’t explain yet the “why” or “how”… I thought of all the people hurt and killed in lightnings, all the fires and destruction spreading because of them this very summer, and right there was a very sobering thought. In my particular case, I did not suffer but I want to remember it as an opportunity to offer prayers for patience and strength and healing for the ones touched severely.

I’m not sure I can explain it well, but it has to do with love and trust, with the love and mercy of God on one hand and our love and trust in return, which is definitely the true reasons why we are on this planet, why we exist and why we should care about each other, even people we don’t know, because there is a link about all of it (invisible but very real, depending on relationships much more than internet connections !) Or so it is in the Judeo-Christian tradition. To me, at this late point in my life (I am a grandmother), I want to remember it (and share it) as the correct way to deepen my own love and trust of God and love of neighbor.

From the French Alps, la Vallée du Haut-Giffre, with love…


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