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It was one of those hot, humid, hazy Georgia afternoons. The meteorologist on the morning news had warned of pop-up thundershowers after 2 p.m.

I walked out onto the porch around 3 o’clock and noticed that the air was noticeably heavy, and it was hard to take a deep breath. Clouds were building in the skies beyond our treetops.

Around 4 o’clock that afternoon, our neighbors in the distance decided to walk from their back porch to their barn when they felt it.

“Electricity moved through both of us,” Ashley told me a few days later. “It didn’t knock us to the ground, but it stunned us, and we were messed up for a while.”

Our neighbors had been struck by lightning before anyone in our community even knew that a storm was right on top of us. Lightning probably struck a nearby tree or structure and the energy traveled outward and up through their bodies — a phenomenon known as ground current.

Lightning is one of the leading causes of weather-related fatalities. It kills an average of 49 people each year in the US and injures hundreds more. Some survivors have lifelong neurological damage from being struck by lightning. Others suffer hearing loss.

Our neighbors are lucky. They survived.

I had a great-aunt who was not so lucky.

In 1929, two of my great-aunts, twogreat uncles, and a cousin traveled to New Jersey for the summer to find work. They lived in a brownstone in Camden, worked during the days, and sent money home to their parents here and there. The boys found work at Radio Corporation of America (better known as RCA) and a drug store. In August that year, my Great-aunt Amy went to work in the New Jersey peach fields.

While Amy and the other pickers were in the field one day, a thunderstorm blew up fast and everyone in the field took shelter under a nearby tree. Lightning struck the tree. Amy died instantly. She was only twenty- one years old and had an entire lifetime ahead of her. The family was devastated. Everyone mourned.

My Great-aunt Beauty took care of the many arrangements necessary to send Amy’s lifeless body back to Georgia. The family buried her in the Sardis Baptist Church Cemetery in Wheeler County.

As a child, I heard the story of my greataunt’s death many times, and as a result, I have always been fearful and overly cautious when it comes to thunder and lightning storms. If I’m outside and notice a gray cloud in the sky or hear a distant rumble, I quickly move indoors. The odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are only around 1 in 500,000, but why take a chance when it can kill you “deader than dead?”

Other than lightning, have you ever paused and pondered the many ways Mother Nature lashes out at us? We, as humans, are basically walking around this world with targets on our backs.

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake in Haiti killed hundreds of people this week. An unknown number are still missing in the rubble.

Every year, we watch earth hurl hurricane after hurricane toward the US like a bowling ball rolling down the alley trying to knock down as many pins as possible.

Wildfires are ravaging the West right now. Every evening, the news shows people fleeing amid flames as high as treetops — like they are escaping Hell itself. Thousands of acres (land and structures) have been destroyed out there this year.

And volcanoes threaten human life, too. The petrified people of Pompeii, Italy, learned that lesson the hard way.

And if all of that isn’t alarming enough, we’ve been dealing with a deadly virus the last two years. It’s killed over 4 million folks worldwide, and it’s just one virus of many.

World renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson often says that the earth is a deadly place, and at every opportunity, it is trying to kill us. He says this half in jest, and half in truth, citing sinkholes, tsunamis, sharks, bears, viruses, etc. I think he’s right. It does seem that the earth is out to get us these days — as if we are all doomed.

As for our neighbors, they said the lightning strike incident was a wake up call for them.

“Nothing makes you appreciate life like a near-death experience,” Ashley said. “We’re so happy to be alive.”

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