Last summer my husband and I were parked at the beach. We go there often after dinner; it’s a peaceful time when the beach isn’t crowded and the heat of the day blends with the breezes off the Sound. With the tide exceptionally low we watched as birds searched the flats for food and dawdling beach goers lingered during the calm of the pleasant evening. Within a few minutes of our arrival the peacefulness of the evening took an ominous turn. In the distance behind us we could hear rumbles of thunder and from inside the car I could see in the side mirror the pattern of lightening approaching from the northwest.
I was amazed by how many people continued to walk in the water or along the beach as the storm approached. Hearing some voice concern did not rattle the few who continued their evening stroll along the beach. A van pulled up next to us. The two people in the van I assumed were father and daughter. She was adorable; perhaps nine or ten with long dark hair. As she stepped out of the van a rumble of thunder and flash of lightening frightened her. I was a little surprised they didn’t get back in their vehicle but the father, obviously clueless to the hazards of standing on the beach while a storm approached, walked with his little girl down the sidewalk away from us.
As I often do during thunderstorms I related to my husband for the hundredth time my experience when I witnessed my uncle and another person being struck by lightning. We were in Rockland, Maine, I was twenty-three at the time and we were all inside an enclosed building when it happened. It was one of the most frightening experiences of my life. My uncle and the other man survived, but outside on the breakwater in Penobscot Sound, which we could see from inside the building, a father and his little boy were struck and killed by the lightning.
The storm at the beach rolled toward us, the sky darkened and thunder shuttered over us in earnest. While continuing to watch the lightening in my side mirror, I heard a child whining. Glancing away from the mirror, the father and his little girl slowly walked in front of our car. She was the one whining, trying to smooth her long hair down. It was standing straight up on end.
“Look at her hair,” I said to my husband.
“I see it."
“Get in your truck!” I shouted from my open window. She looked at me as if I had just yelled fire. I screamed at her. “Get in your truck now!” She ran for the van, climbed in and slammed the door; like saucers, her eyes were wide with fear; then a flash, and almost immediately, thunder shook our car.
Looking at me, the father now between our car and his van, smiled. I thought it odd. How could he so calmly smile at a strange woman who had just yelled at his little girl?
“It’s dangerous,” I said to him, “to be out in the storm.” The women in the car on the other side of us looked at me as if I just threatened the pair with an Uzi. Continuing to smile I realized the man hadn’t understood a word I'd said. Even if he didn’t understand English he should have heard the urgency in my voice, I had just scared the shit out of kid for Christ sake. She was now crying. All of this was happening while the thunder and lightning intensified. He finally climbed into his van. We left the beach along with about half the other cars.
To say my husband was upset puts it mildly. He believed I over-reacted. My knee-jerk reaction to her hair standing on end meant she was in imminent danger of being struck. I believed the last sign, and perhaps the only sign, someone gets is a tingling and static sensation, like hair standing on end, as the charge of the lightning bolt searches for a ground.
Did I scare the girl, absolutely? What plays over in my mind is if I had remained silent; knowing what was happening and saying nothing, she might have been struck right there in front of us.
Did I save her life, perhaps, I will never know but what I do know is that if it were to happen again I’d probably react exactly the same way.
Is scaring a kid to safety right?