September 11 all over again
I have never seen anything so horrific. A gorgeously warm sunny day fades into night, and wham! in only seconds, languorous heat lightning supersizes into hellish flames of white. A rooting tooting storm rampages in and starts looting the landscape. White light keeps flashing through my room and finally boom! Murderously crackling bam! unleashes wind that pounds with vengeance. Who knew Nature planned to celebrate September 11 creating terror.
My house is a World Trade Center magnet for lightning. It's perched without foundation on a tiny point of ledge protruding into salt water, land decorated with tall, shallow rooted trees: pine, spruce and oak that bend in their struggle to hold on. Four years ago, a bolt zapped the tallest, a pine next door. It was just like the smashing of the jetliner into the glass tower. The strike cracked the tree open, zizzed through the abutting power line into my neighbor's house and sizzled everything that was plugged in. Two months later, a leftover interior wire smoldering in resentment sparked, burst and sent Joe's house in flames to the ground.
Who wants to mess with any killer qaeda. I just try to remember everything I ever heard to do when lightning is striking. I grabbed a flashlight (I keep one in every room for moments like this), turned off everything electrical, pulled the plugs on the computer and charging iPad. I did that because two friends whose turned off computers got totally frazzled when lightning raced through house wiring and zinged them.
Wind smashed against the walls. Rooms lit in ghostly flickers. Pounding thunder shook the floor. I sped around pulling windows shut, as though a double pane of glass would protect me. I grabbed anything made of metal, threw it in the kitchen sink and covered it with a rubber mat because rubber absorbs electricity.
I ran to lie low, literally lie down. That's the rule when caught on a boat or outside near trees during a lightning blaze. Lie down so your height doesn't draw its attention. Let electricity hunting for prey dive into the flatness around you. Strike one for this point. The morning after this surprise September 11 hoopla, TV news reported that a guy standing next to his refrigerator had to be helicoptered to a hospital after being struck by lightning that bounced off it.
Gales screeched, thunder pounded, flares of white light blazed inside and out. My fear broke all records. This sturm und drang was no temporary tantrum or scolding. The fury was evil, and I just knew it wasn't going to end well. But what's a girl to do? Well, about the only thing a terrified person facing her worst nightmare can do: I hid under the bed covers, cowering.
My roof sounded as if tabla master Zakir Hussein was pounding a rhythmic thud thud thud. Jeesuuz! I thought, now we've got hail! No, maybe it was acorns being shaken off the massive oak. The bong! bong! stopped but not the frenzied light show with boomers. I lay in my duvet bomb shelter empathizing with people in war zones: the London blitz, Syrian carpet bombing, Tripoli terror. In these horrific and often inexplicable barrages, you have no control, no power, no say in the outcome. All you can do is lie there quaking like the landscape around you. You can only lie in wait, hoping the next big kaboom! goes harmlessly by, sparing you like the Lord of Passover. All you can do is pray.
So I did, loudly as though the shout of mantra could drown out the rumbles of fear and crackling of thunder. I tried to turn the terrifying lightning streaks into Guru Rinpoche's all powerful dorje, the great thunderbolt that strikes evil and negativity. Dorje means indestructible and in practice I am supposed to imagine a protective ring of these flaming thunderbolts around me. I tried to visualize my besieged house encircled, lightening bouncing off the whole shebang. I shouted the Guru Rinpoche mantra over and over as if it too could deflect the never ending swords of electricity savaging midnight's black.
Trying to push back onrushing panic, I remembered Green Tara, the Mother who protects from fear, and as wind rattled the windows, I beseeched her with mantra. Whomp! The roof reverberated. Then the heavy bong! bong! of objects falling. I cringed. Mother Nature was on an impetuous remodeling tear. Why couldn't she just stop, go away and leave me alone. Not change anything. I thought about the people whose lives were destroyed in one instant of wind and water from Hurricane Sandy, one instant of jumbo jet dive bombing a skyscraper. One minute is all it takes to yank lifetimes off their mooring. Om mani peme hung.
I pleaded with White Tara for protection. Another crash of thunder brought another momentous crash to the roof. "Karmapa chenno!" I screamed, "Great Karmapa the all seeing and knowing, know me here and now." Which is to say: do something to save me! Karmapa chenno.
The loud insistent rapping at the door woke me up. To my surprise it was quiet, daylight, 7:30 AM. "You'd better come out," my neighbor shouted. "Your roof's bashed in pretty bad. You got a mess out here."
He had a mess over there too. The puzzling flashlights I'd seen bobbing in the midnight frenzy on the water had been his and his son's. They were out there rescuing his dock and brand new boat, both ripped ripped from the shore as easily as you unsnap a jacket. "Wind shear," he said. "A wicked microburst of wind tunneled through here."
Let me tell you Mother Nature is no tree hugger. She left that message in a Christmas tree size pitch pine on my shore uprooted amid a pile of ledge evicted with it. An oak limb rested astride the metal chimney cap its fall had bashed. Pieces of a pine limb were scattered around the base of my bedroom's dustpan dormer. The rest of it lay across the stone patio and my table. The runway of my dock was twisted rightward, listing like a cripple.
The front of my house was totally blocked by a massive pine lying on its side entwined with the small cedar its descent had beheaded. Most of the pine that is, because the rest was dangling off the peak, giving my roof a really bad toupee. Branches covered the upper skylight. Gutter lay on the ground among ripped green asphalt roof shingles and a long wooden board. That explained the huge world shaking thud: this massive evergreen, which leaned toward the sea, had been snapped off, blown back, and smashed into the little cedar which deflected it to the corner of the house where it literally hit the roof like all hell, split and rolled off smashing all my plants and laborious gardening effort out front.
I was all right. There was no broken glass, no leaks. The outdoor furniture was just fine. Within an hour five guys were there with ladders and chain saws and by noon, I could see through the skylight and get out the front door. "You were lucky," the tree guy said. "That monster just grazed your roof when it could've caved it all in. But you never know. You should check for hidden damage."
The builder couldn't find any. He scoured and scooted around the roof, climbed down his metal ladder and said: "Seems you had some luck. The damage seems to be only to this part of the roof that's the eave. Everything over the rooms looks fine."
The adjustor circled, his tape measure a yo yo in and out and in as he inspected and noted. He eyed the mountainous pile of slash and logs. Four trees gone, wood chips everywhere you could see, tons tracked inside the house. On the shoreline he saw the uprooted pine and ledges that looked like pulled pork, the boulder thrown up like a softball, the twisted metal rod of my dock ramp.
"It was terrifying," I blurted. "That was the scariest storm I've ever seen. I just knew it wasn't going to end well."
"It was violent," he said without looking up from his notebook. "I can't keep up with the claim calls. Cars bashed by trees, roofs caved, power lines torn off."
"I was scared out of my mind," I said, "cowering under the covers doing any meditation mantra I could remember. I heard a horrific thud and prayed louder and louder to all the Buddhas to protect me. I couldn't bear the thought I'd have to evacuate, going out at the mercy of such fury. I didn't know what to do. I just kept praying as if my prayers of faith in the Buddhist gods I know would make them come through for me. You know, like paying off the mafia for protection. I just kept doing meditation mantras."
"Well," he said, "from what I see, looks like your protectors did a good job deflecting real trouble. I've seen much much worse today. My job's pretty simple here, so I'd say: Keep meditating."
~Sandy Garson "Wordsmithing to attest how the Dharma saved me from myself!"
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