The Lightening Tree


As usual, Edna Olsen tucked into bed in West St. Paul, Minnesota, at around midnight on June 27, 1977. Soon afterward — at his regular bedtime — Edna’s husband Jim joined her, although not as usual, given that he died of a stroke the previous day.

This, understandably, disrupted their normal cuddling mode.

Fortunately — perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not — on that evening a dramatic thunderstorm altered the environment and its inhabitants in a significant way.

Lightning from the storm flashed with particular violence. One bolt struck the black walnut tree just outside Edna’s bedroom window and disrupted her slumber. The drama of cracking thunder and the crashing of the descending walnut tree startled Edna. More amazing to Edna was the glowing ball of light now hovering over her body.

At first unsettling, the glow persisted well beyond the crash, and soon Edna felt an unexpected sense of peace and comfort at its presence. Within a moment or two, the glow softened, yet remained perched above her bed — waiting, perhaps for some response. Finally, the glowing ball casually crossed the room, passed effortlessly and harmlessly through a window, and spirited off into the evening sky.

Edna fell back to sleep.

That evening, I slept in the basement bedroom of Edna’s home. I was present for a few days to comfort her and share in our mutual loss of Jim. While the thunderstorm and vivid lightning strike had jolted me awake, I did not leave bed until the next morning.

Emerging from the basement, I was greeted by Edna at the top of the stairs. She was smiling and clearly interested in sharing something. As it turned out it was news of her dramatic night-time interlude.

“Come with me,” she insisted, leading me into the backyard and around to the side of the house where the walnut tree once stood. It was now lying on the ground and split neatly in two by the lightning bolt. After a moment of shocked silence, I said, “My goodness, were you lucky that it was the tree and not the house that was destroyed!”

Surprisingly Edna responded, “We were never in danger, but I was indeed lucky.”

She went on to recount the stunning episode of the ball of light in her room. “It was your father who came back, as the lightning, to comfort me and bid farewell in a most dramatic fashion. I can’t tell you how much peace this has brought to me. On his way out the window, I could finally say goodbye.”

Over the ensuing days, Edna’s nephew Art, a talented craftsman, was granted the rights to the wood and removed tree halves from the property. Art carved segments of the lightening tree into bowls, walking sticks and other objects of utility and beauty. I was fortunate to be given three such bowls and a walking stick, which, to this day, I cherish as reminders of Jim, of his thoughtful and explosive return to bid Edna goodbye, and of his continuing presence in the wood and in life. For me, just touching these spirit-imbued objects is deeply spiritual.

Thank goddess for the tree and lightning. In our family’s life, they united in a way that challenged the notion that an impermeable barrier separates the living from the dead. Consequently, I embrace the notion that love never really ends. Profound unions permeate borders of time and space in mysterious ways.

A lightning strike is not always required to signal such unions, but it doesn’t hurt.

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