Back in the late 1970s as a young lad, one of my favourite summer past-times was sitting with the family on the stoop of our small condominium townhouse during those wild and crazy summer storms. Watching the lightning, feeling the thunder and daring friends and siblings to run out (prancing like fools) into the downpour and challenge the unlikely (but still finitely possible) event of a bolt of white tagging you into the next life. Kids feel pretty immortal and liberated in those endless summers. You do not think too hard about it, because well, in innocence (a form of arrogance) you have no concept of the consequences.
Enter Jennifer Baichwal, who won a number of awards and notice with her 2007 documentary Manufactured Landscapes. She points her camera on several folks from around the world who actually have been struck by lightening and have lived to tell the tale. The common thread amongst these haphazardly assembled mini-narratives is how we, as individuals are prone to process the spectacular ‘awe’ of lightning. By way of the mathematics of electricity and magnetism, polarity and potential? So says author Paul Auster who accepts the total randomness of the event, but cannot stop thinking about it, even after writing about the experience several times. Auster is by far the most compelling speaker in the film, his voice is modulated to carry the room like a seasoned pro: intense, yet lost in reverie. His reading of one of his own stories is the climax of the picture (a wise move) and it is gripping stuff. Or perhaps simply it his rationality and pragmatism appeals more to my own heart. Others, like the mother in Mexico that had her sons and husband killed in a massive lightning strike in front of her hilltop church, or the self-help guru and veteran affairs consultant who took years to recover from his injuries, turn to God for their questions. Lightning is a good a symbol as anything as the instantaneous manifestation of his divine will. Either way you slice it, God or science, lightning and storms are the most spectacular demonstration of either notion.