On Thursday evening I sat in a French garden listening to huge peals of thunder rolling across the fields and vineyards and watching the rain clouds slowly head on collision courses through the heavens and I thought of two people and two lessons they taught me.
The first was my late mother who never wasted an opportunity to draw our attention to thunder, and indeed even lightning, and remark how exciting it sounded. She would point out how charged the air was and the static electricity that made the hairs stand up on our arms. On those occasions when the thunderstorm would result in a power outage, she would light candles, cook on an old camping stove we had tucked away under the stairs and tell stories until bedtime. We loved every minute of these storms and would talk about them for days afterwards.
When my own children arrived they soon recognised my excitement when I, as an adult, heard the first signs of a thunderstorm in the distance. We would wait for the loudest bangs and listen to see if they would get closer and closer. Often switching off the lights to get the full effect from the lightning too.
Many years later when my mother was in her 70s, and not long before she died, she confessed to me that she was in fact terrified of those storms. Apparently she had been scared of thunderstorms all her life from when she was a little girl and they covered the mirrors and closed the curtains when there was a thunderstorm. I asked her when she stopped being scared of thunder and lightning and she said she’d let me know when it happened. Children are influenced by their parents and other adults and she resolved never to show her fear in front of her children and never did. She taught me fear was contagious and could be caught from others and that most fear is unnecessary learned behaviour.
The second person who came to mind that evening was a man named Kieran. I worked for a year with Kieran back when I was in my early twenties. He was a stoic type of character who had little to say but liked to listen to other people. He was much older than me at the time and had a lifetime of experience under his belt and I put great stock in the gems of wisdom he offered on the rare occasions he passed them on. We spent hours deep in conversation attempting to invent a battery powered means of creating perpetual motion (I know what you’re thinking but it was a way to pass the time). I had quite a short fuse back then and it didn’t take much for me to let rip if I felt there was an injustice to be corrected or an insult to be addressed (it’s not much longer now if the truth is told). One day our boss took us to task over an error he attributed to us but in fact was caused by someone else. I wanted to give the boss a piece of my tiny mind but Kieran just shrugged and went about his work. When I asked him why the boss’s accusation didn’t seem to bother him he just smiled and said, “sure you have to listen to thunder but you don’t have to be afraid of it.” It was a lesson I never forgot and have passed on many times to others when they hear something that makes them angry.
These two people, both now deceased, passed through my life but through their example and attitude to an everyday thing like thunder left me a legacy I can pass on to others and share the lessons they taught me.