Singer's wisdom hit teenage me like a bolt of lightning
When I was a teenager, people my age in the United States all seemed to be huge music fans. Some of us loved classical music or jazz, though they were a minority, and the rest were divided into two clans: the AM radio pop music group, and FM radio progressive rock and folk music group.
I belonged to the latter. After all, this was not long after Woodstock－a four-day music festival in a New York state farm field whose celebration of hippiedom and rock and folk music became a cultural landmark. A multiple LP record album was released of those concerts that set the pace for years to come.
The album, I think, included a performance by Arlo Guthrie, a singer-guitarist and one of the leaders of the folk music contingent. It may have been on this album that Guthrie broke into a brief soliloquy as he played chords on his guitar.
He mused－and I was 14 years old at the time, so I can't pretend to remember it verbatim－isn't it strange that anytime you talk about how badly things are going for you, someone will always say, "There are people who have got it worse." It doesn't matter what you say, it's always, "There are people who have got it worse."
"But," he continued, "think about the last guy－what would it be like to be the last guy, the guy who has it worse than everyone else?"
In my adolescence, the thought struck me as profound, and I have to admit that over the years I've still sometimes wondered what it was like to be the "last guy".
Now, I may have come close to finding out.
Roy Sullivan is his name. He's dead now－he died in 1983－but he could have been a contender.
In his 71 years, Sullivan, a ranger at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, US, who lived in the small town of Dooms in the state, was struck by lightning seven times and lived to tell the tale.
The "Human Lightning Rod", as he came to be known, is still recognized by Guinness World Records as the person who has been struck by lightning more documented times than anyone else.
The first documented time－Sullivan claimed he was also struck once in his childhood, but there was no record of it－was in 1942. He had taken shelter from a thunderstorm in a new lookout tower in the park that still lacked lightning rods. The tower was struck several times and "fire was jumping all over the place", he said, so he ran outside. That's when he got hit. The lightning burned a line down his right leg and struck his big toe.
The second time, he was driving his truck. Lightning came through the window, singed his eyebrows and eyelashes, set his hair on fire and knocked him unconscious. The truck continued rolling and nearly went over a cliff.
Sullivan's hair caught on fire three other times, too, so he made sure to always carry water with him just in case－it came in handy on several occasions.
People avoided walking with him out of fear they, too, could be hit. As ridiculous as that may sound, Sullivan's wife was once struck by lightning as he stood alongside her helping her hang laundry outdoors.
So what are the odds of－not of Mrs. Sullivan, but someone in general－being struck by lightning? The US National Weather Service estimates that in the country there's a 1-in-15,300 chance in an 80-year lifetime. By those figures, Sullivan, who didn't make it to 80, statistically took a bullet, or in this case a bolt, for at least six of us.
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