All my life I have heard sayings like, “Lightning never strikes twice,” generally meant to convey that something significant—bad—rarely happens twice to the same person or team. Most of us do not worry about this, or even give one lightning strike a passing thought. However, while in south Florida last week, the number of lightning-related warnings transmitted to my friend’s iPhone every day during my visit surprised me. We stayed inside and watched the light show, but worried only about the power going off—not personally getting struck.
Lightning kills an average of 49 people each year in the United States, and hundreds more are injured. And while lightning is one of the leading causes of weather-related fatalities, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are only around 1 in 500,000—a better chance than winning the lottery, but still not very common.
I came home from south Florida to read this headline: Parents struck by lightning on Sanibel with their two young children nearby. The article below it began: Two people, a husband and wife, were struck by lightning Saturday afternoon on Sanibel, according to the Sanibel Fire Rescue District. The couple were on holiday with the woman’s mother, a colleague of mine. She had been so excited about this vacation with her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren, aged two and five. The City of Sanibel said that families watched in horror as the two were struck, and that the lightning barely missed the children.
I’ve since learned that the husband, who was struck in the head and declared brain dead, has since died, albeit not before his organs were harvested. His wife, struck in her arm and torso, is expected to make a full recovery.
I’m not sure whether this incident meets the definition of lightning striking twice, but it is close enough to find it almost unfathomable . . . and certainly horrific. I’m reminded of another cliché: wrong place, wrong time.
Besides the sadness and concern for this family, I can’t help but think how uncertain life is. How random and chaotic our existence is. And yet, when we know quite well how to minimize our risks and lessen the uncertainty, we don’t act! Nothing could have prevented this particular tragedy, but we can reduce the odds of collapsing condos, bridges, and highways. We can minimize climate warming, dramatically moderate the spread of Covid-19, and finally put an end to gun violence.
Why don’t we?