When Lightning Strikes

Sometimes it takes a strike of lightning to wake us up.

Last month, lightning struck Washington DC. Four people went under a tree for shelter. Only one survived.

Sole Survivor

Amber Escudero-Kontostathis is twenty-eight and the sole survivor of the Lafayette Square lightning strike. When the summer storm began, Amber and three others went for cover under a tree just north of the White House.

  • Six bolts of lightening struck down where the four were waiting out the storm. Six bolts of lightning within 30 seconds.
  • High school sweethearts, James Mueller (76) and Donna Mueller (75) died from the lightening under that tree.
  • Brooks Lambertson (29) died shortly after from injuries caused by the lightening.
  • Amber Escudero-Kontostathis went 10 minutes without oxygen to her brain and without a heartbeat at all.

Life After Lightening Strikes

Amber lives with the physical sensation of surviving a lightning strike on her body:

Her nerves are misfiring. Her foot will sometimes feel like it is bare in snow. On the worst days, she feels like there are “10,000 grains of salt moving through each pore” of her feet. Source: The New York Times

There is the spiritual component of survival for Anna who frequently awakens to a “feeling similar to a dream of falling, except the thing that jolts her is a glowing ball of light the size of a playground ball speeding toward her face.”

When Amber Escudero-Kontostathis, 28, drifts into a light sleep, she is frequently awakened by a feeling similar to a dream of falling, except the thing that jolts her is a glowing ball of light the size of a playground ball speeding toward her face.

And of course, Anna struggles with the mental anguish that comes from the miracle of surviving something that something that kills approximately 43 people a year.

Amber died on her birthday and was brought back — twice.

“I am not really comfortable being the one,[who survived]but it’s the hand I was dealt, and I am grateful for it, and I am going to make sure I do not let those three people down. I carry them with me in thought and in action every day.”-Amber Escudero-Kontostathis — NY TIMES

Amber’s Lesson for All of Us

Shortly after the August 4th deadly lightening strike, I was picking my son up from school. Thunder crackled and boomed around us as he got in the car, and bolts of lightening kept us company on the drive home.

We drove by a teenaged boy sitting with an umbrella. There were cars behind us. I couldn’t stop. He was sitting under a tree.

“That boy needs to get somewhere inside.” I said.

“Why? He’s protected from the tree,” my son said.

And there it was: a different kind of lightening, for sure. But striking (for me) all the same. I’d assumed my son knew that trees were a fantastic conductor of electricity. After all, he is in his second year of high school and taking rigorous STEM courses. Of course he would know that a tree was the worst place to go for shelter during a thunderstorm.

The Danger of Assumptions

Amber, James, Donna, and Brooks all assumed — like my son that heading under a tree during a thunderstorm brought protection.

It made me wonder: what other things do I assume my son knows?

My son now knows that heading under a tree during a lightening storm is the worst place to go. We talked about the roots of the tree offering a fast conductor for an electrical storm. 

Indoors are the safest places. Cars are safe as well. It’s the metal doors and roof that protect us — not the rubber tires.

The odds of getting struck by lightning in the U.S. in any year is 1 in 700,000. It’s far from common. And maybe that’s why my son made the same assumption Amber, James, Donna, and Brooks did. Maybe that’s why I assumed my son knew how to stay safe during a lightning storm.

Regardless, it makes me wonder: 

  • What other assumptions do I walk around with? 
  • What lessons do I want to impart to my son instead of assuming he already knows them?
  • What assumptions do I walk around with that need to be addressed?

A heartfelt prayer of peace to the August 4th victims of the Washington D.C. lightening strike — both here and on the Other Side.