Shortly after the event described below, I wrote this article, which was subsequently printed in The Friend. I was living in Durham City at the time, and had decided to walk to the local supermarket to buy some groceries. Although it was raining, which is why I took the umbrella with me, there was no indication that the atmosphere was unstable. Moreover, whilst the rain continued unabated throughout, which resulted in me getting very wet, there was only the single lightning bolt.
Peter Hughes, Canterbury Meeting.
At about 15.30 on Monday 1 August 1988, I was touched by lightning. During the same moment, the wall of a house several miles away exploded, struck by a lightning bolt dramatically discharging approximately 12,000,000 volts. Every cable in the house blew. The chimney fell. The house was wrecked. In that moment, I felt a sudden jolt, and my arm jerked involuntarily. A brilliant, slender, jagged spark arced from the metal of my umbrella to my hand. I had been touched by a wisp of lightning.
I found myself unable to comprehend what had happened. As I stood there dithering in the road, the rain teeming down around, I could not decide what to do. Go on? Go back? Fold my umbrella? I was still feeling confused and uncertain later that evening. Was I really still here, and in one piece?
Luck, fate and predestination are, for me, unsatisfactory notions which are not simply misguided, but wanting in faith. (In their anthropocentricity, they seem to assume that the individual is of absolute significance to the universe.) Amongst other things, a problem of such notions is that they generate either spurious behaviour (wooing “Lady Luck”, tempting fate, etc) or the sensational trivialisation of whatever occurrence. We are deluged by irrelevant competitions and stories of amazing good or bad “luck”.
By way of contrast, there is that which is. What is has many forms. Some of that which is is subject to change, in which case the result is. Part of my spiritual task concerns coming to terms with and accepting what is. (Another part involves learning to recognise what is open to change and where change is needed, and then acting on this knowledge.)
Had events been different, had the wisp of lightning found the house, and the bolt sought me instead, then I should not be here now writing. However, that I might not have been here now has been so since my conception. Moreover, if I look back over thirty years, I can identify countless occasions, the outcomes of which could have been fatal. We totter blind along a narrow cliff-path, hoping fervently to avoid pathogen, accident and malice.
Some people might be content to believe that I had a lucky escape. Me, I am simply thankful that I was spared once again. Because my gratitude is not towards a person, I can channel it wherever I choose. I choose, therefore, to use this event in two ways. Firstly, to make real to myself, yet again, that which can be described as the sense of forever living on borrowed time, or, theocentrically, an awareness of the Grace of God. Secondly, I choose to recommit my efforts to following what I hope are the leadings of the Spirit.
Quakers, traditionally, are unsuperstitious. This leaves us free to translate any event into a turning back to the Light. When Paul was touched by God, he chose to change his whole life and work. Although I have no desire to be touched by lightning again, no doubt I shall be, in one way or another. But how much better were I able to recognise divine Grace (for want of a better phrase) regardless of the meteorological “acts of God”.
Peter Hughes, 1988