There was a lightning storm in Greenpoint tonight. Growing up in Brazil I was fortunate enough to witness the power of superstition in people’s lives and one of my favorites was covering mirrors during a lightning storm. From childhood to my adulthood there was a drill at my grandma’s house: when lightning strikes one is responsible for disconnecting everything from the outlets and rush around the house covering mirrors and other reflective surfaces, such as portraits, paintings and lustrous bald heads. At first, I was intrigued. What does it all mean? My grandma believed that mirrors attract lightning and the house would burn to the ground. It’s a pretty scary irrational fear, but still irrational. She’s not alone though. There are records of people telling the same story from El Salvador to Ireland and even South Africa.
Grandma was a housewife for most of her life. Before that, she was living with her parents and she moved out to become a parent herself. It wasn’t until she was a middle aged woman that she got into PR for politicians in my hometown. She didn’t go to school to learn how to promote events and schmooze with State leaders. She just had a knack for it. It became her career. She was the strongest woman I’ve ever met; however, she was scared shitless of lightning storms. After the boom of every thunder she would cover her ears and shout, Saint Barbara!
You see, Saint Barbara is known for being associated with lightning. Her legend says that she secretly became a Christian and her father wanted her dead for it. One might consider that an overreaction. Anyway, after she produced a few miracles trying to run away from him, he finally got her and she was beheaded. He was the executioner. After that, he was struck by lightning and burst into flames. So, there you go, she will protect you against lightning if you call her name. Grams knew it all.
In Brazil, religious people have a saint for any kind of problem you might have. It’s like Google for religion. You need a man? Pray for Saint Anthony. You lost something? Pray for Saint Longinus. This one, however, only works in Brazil. Apparently, the name Longinus is a derivation of lance in Greek. He is the centurion that stabbed Christ when he was on the cross and thus created the Spear of Destiny. As in one of those items part of the Holy Grail legend.
Grandma had a deck filled with prays for any ailment and problem.
After a while, I wanted to take a stand. I was against anything regarding religion. I was into metal, dressed in black and would rather be disowned than attending any religious event with my family. You can imagine how inconvenient it was to stop playing video games for a teenage boy just because of a stupid thunder. I’d say, I’ll take my chances. Lightning in a mirror, pfft, like I was born yesterday!
I was being sassy. I became man of science against woman of faith. It was a battle for the future. I stood my ground and kept my stuff plugged to the walls from that point on. Science is on my side, yo. This is what The Urban Astronomer wrote about it:
“Now lightning is very bright, emitting a lot of light. Mirrors can reflect this light, if it happens to shine on the mirror, with ease. But the actual bolt itself won’t deflect from its original path towards the mirror simply because the light is being reflected.
That said, lightning can do some pretty weird things. There are records of lightning bolts striking and killing a man inside a movie theatre while leaving the building intact and his fellow patrons unharmed. Lightning bolts have been known to strike telephone wires and kill people using the phone kilometers away. The faint electrical fields around radio transmitters (like the ones we all carry around in our cellphones) have occasionally been known to attract lightning. So it certainly is possible for lightning to enter your home and strike your mirrors, if you’re spectacularly unlucky. But it could just as likely avoid them. Covering them up makes no sense, and certainly won’t change that particular roll of the dice.” So, yeah, I was right all along and I was just trolling her.
But, then something changed. I started caring. I wouldn’t unplug my devices, but I would stay with her, trying to distract her. Waiting for the storm to pass. I don’t remember what happened, but I wanted to spend more time with her. Learn more about whom she really was. She was also sneaky though, whenever I was not home and there was a lightning storm, she would go to my room and pull everything out of the outlets. Sigh.
So, I saw myself going to the church escorting this old lady. Listening to her stories from the time of the dictatorial regime in Brazil and how she hid persecuted people, became friends with iconic figures in politics and wind up working with them years in the future.
My relationship with faith, other people’s faith, changed drastically. It used to annoy me every time one of my relatives would say, I’m gonna pray for you! No, thank you, I’d say.
It was as if I was surrendering by proxy, but that changed too. I wasn’t threatened by it anymore. Do I still find religion bizarre and one of our worst problems in society? Yes, but if an old lady says that she’s gonna pray for me, I’ll happily accept it. It only means they’re thinking about you. On their own terms.
I was in my early twenties, in college and I saw myself dating a woman that was also somewhat religious. She was more devoted to it when she was younger. She told me once that she completely believed in the power of god because, even though she was being selfish and praying for material stuff, she would always get her way. I laughed at her face. I didn’t break up with her because the sex was so good. We spent a lot of time together and I was at her place most weekends.
On a Sunday night, I went to my grandma’s, I was living at her house at the time and the place was desolate. Really out of the ordinary for a Sunday night in that house. I went to my bedroom and I couldn’t turn on the light. I didn’t think much of it. We had dinner and went back to my room. Tried to turn on my computer and nothing. TV? Nothing. Boombox, DVD player, Playstation, nothing. Nothing would work. Eventually, one of my aunts showed up. She looked distraught. Grandma was rushed to the hospital and had to have surgery. My aunt explained the whole situation to me and my girl and I felt shattered.
Before my aunt left I asked her, do you know what happened in my room? She told me that on the previous night, the night they took Grams to the hospital, there was a lightning storm and there was some sort of electrical overcharge in the wiring. Lightning can do some pretty weird things.