Lightning Strikes: Over in a Flash

A friend posted this tragic story on Facebook yesterday. Another friend commented about how/why bad things happen to good people. I found the whole exchange fascinating and full of questions and observations.

The most obvious observation, of course, is that it’s a terribly sad story. The gist?

“A man’s plan to propose to his girlfriend on a mountain in the US ended in tragedy when the pair were struck by lightning, it was reported today.

Richard Butler and his girlfriend, Bethany Lott, both from Knoxville, Tennessee, were hit as they hiked in the North Carolina mountains. Lott was killed, while Butler suffered third degree burns.

Butler, 30, had driven Lott, his partner of a year, to Max Patch Bald, near Asheville, saying they would be going for a stroll.

He had planned to present her with an engagement ring at the top of the mountain.

When they reached the peak, lightning struck three times, with the third strike hitting the couple .”

The tragedy bleeds humanity and irony to me. If you go on to read the story through, it ends stating her last words were: “Look how beautiful it is.”

Can you imagine that being the last thought, the last feeling you ever have? To die in that state of grace?

That’s a gift, that.

For him, of course, well, the horror of it will probably never be erased.

To live knowing that a moment of perfect beauty can be shattered forever in such a finite and reckless way? To know that a moment of perfect hope filled with dreams of the future can be split by a flash and turned into what then seems an endless nightmare?

Yeah. That’ll fuck him up for a while.

But then it comes down to the what if’s. What if he was about to propose and she would have said no? What if then their lives would have split and he had to watch from afar on Facebook or some shit as she found a new love, lived the life that should have been his, all the while wishing for that moment back when she said “Look how beautiful it is” before he popped the rejected question?

Or maybe she would have said yes, and they’d have gone the way so many others go — from an idealized love of “we likes stuffs”, where you’re young and in the same places, so a life together makes sense, to the eventual realization that you knew shit about life and even less about the kind of lover you needed for the longterm. One day that divorce comes, and presto, just another statistic. What if, indeed.

A life lived after “Look how beautiful it is.”

Or not.

The irony, of course, is that that moment probably never had a Happily Ever After in the first place. Statistically speaking.

But it had the possibility. It had the possibility of sunshine and roses, picket fences and breakfasts in bed. It had the possibility of rockers on a rickety porch and their fallen grey hairs mingling on pillows. It had the possibility of a life together, the dream of forever.

Sometimes, we’ll trade a lifetime just for that moment of possibility.

The chance to love forever, to be a rockstar, to be immortal, to have everything we want — just so long as we had the chance.

It really is an epic sad story. Love ended on a mountaintop by a freak lightning storm, moments before a marriage proposal. It sounds like a 14th-century ballad or something. Stories wistful mothers tell sad-faced romantic daughters.

But, for one guy out there, it’s not a story. It’s not a hypothetical. It’s a sick and twisted new chapter of his life, his waking surreality. Love-of-a-life snuffed by lightning moments before his asking her hand in marriage, story at 11.

So sad and unlikely, it’s almost funny.

The journeys we all walk, man. Everyone’s got a trip to take. Pack some glue or duct tape, ‘cos your heart’s gonna get broke time and time again on those travels. Maybe not with such drama as our mountaintop friends, but it’ll happen.

If that errant lightning can find them in that moment, never question the tragedies that can find you. Or when.

What a thing: Chance.

I don’t know what terrible instances lie before me. I don’t know how I’ll go out.

All I know is, I hope it happens in that split instant after a smile spreads over my face when I look at something amazing and whisper “Look how beautiful it is.”

That’d be all right with me.