Lester And The Lightning

by: Joanne Meehl

More than 20 years ago now, on a humid August morning during which one little storm after another rolled through the area where I lived south of Boston, there was all at once a flash, a crack, and a boom of thunder that tells you your house has been hit by lightning. It set the garage on fire in an instant, and smoke boiled its way under the screened porch roof into the windows. As I called 911, my quick-thinking fireman neighbor ran around closing the slider and the windows to reduce the amount of smoke damage. The firetruck finally arrived -- minutes really do seem like hours when flames are threatening to reach the can of gasoline you keep in the garage for the lawn mower -- and the firemen put the fire out in short order.

The first thing you check is your insurance policy and yes, it covered lightning damage. But it would be months before everything would be normal and routine again. Why did this happen?, my then-husband and I wondered aloud. In just days, he was about to start graduate school, and now he and I had to deal with frightening things like firemen searching the hidden parts of our house for fire, like the attic and feeling the walls for hidden flames -- you will never appreciate these experts as much as when they are helping YOU. And complete strangers roaming our yard to see the damage, lawyers coming to your door to offer helping fighting the insurance company, and insurance adjusters and repair people. Our life had been turned upside down. Why did this happen? Why us?

Frustration turned to anger as we had to live with the smell of smoke permeating our house, fried wiring, no power in the whole neighborhood, and our inability to do any repairs until the insurance company made its decisions. We knew it could have been far worse but that seemed little consolation at the time. The lightning had hit the ground in the middle of the woods behind our house, raced along a vein of rock underground, exploded out of our raised-bed garden wall and split itself into two, carving jagged paths in the lawn and coming back together again just as it hit the garage. Lightning does not hesitate. It gets there and does its job: instant fire. We found clumps of sod on the garage roof later. We were without power for days, as was the whole neighborhood.

Worst of all, we were left with a sense of vulnerability. If lightning could hit our house, what else might happen?

The insurance company finally came through with a good check. To fix the smoke damage, we hired a couple from our church who had a cleaning business doing that, so they benefited. Another church member rewired our house and was thankful for the extra work at a slow time for him. But who would rebuild the garage? We were at a loss.

That was, until another church friend asked if he could do it. Les had a background doing such work. He had lost his wife Nina to a sudden heart attack a couple of months before; she was part of the core of the church and everyone was devastated. Les was a wounded soul without her and no one knew how to console him. He was one of those old timers who could redo his plumbing as well as he could write an insurance policy, and he was just a good guy, so of course we said yes. He refused to talk about how we'd pay him for his time and work, putting it off until later.

Les took down the garage board by board because he could reuse some of the boards for other projects. He hand-dug an addition to the concrete pad so that it would meet the new building code. He rebuilt the garage, doubling its original size. He took time on details with wood that enriched the look, making it the nicest part of the house exterior. It was a beauty a couple of months later when he was done.

He refused payment."Doing this for you helped me more than it helped you", he said in the end.

It was only then, as the leaves were falling, that we realized why the lightning hit our house and not someone else's. All that time and energy spent being frustrated, even angry, and wondering why, why, and why us?, and months later, when we saw that Les was healing, we knew why: it happened so we could help Les. And at that point we actually were thankful for the lightning, a complete surprise.

Les remarried a year or so later and we liked to think it was in part because of this healing project.

So what does this have to do with job search? I think of Les and the lightning when a client, in great frustration, says "Why did I have to lose my job, why? Why me?" I tell them: "You may not know the reason now or even in a few months, but at some point, you will know it, and it will actually be a good one". They're usually surprised by this statement and doubtful, but they listen.

So I give them evidence that this is true, such as the story of the laid-off marketing manager whose extended layoff meant he could coach his son's soccer team, and actually spend time with his son and daughter. During that time, he refined his career goals, deciding to go into a nonprofit, and eventually landed a job at a university. He told me "My layoff was a gift". When he landed his new job, what faded was the financial pinch his long layoff presented; instead, he remembered playing a big role in raising his children. That was the gift, and one that his family will long remember and hold dear.

So if you are between jobs and making good use of this time, don't decry it. Instead, see it as a gift. Because it is.


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