Gaff stood under the shelter at the seaward end of the fishing pier in Kure Beach. The pier was so long that standing at the end was like being in a boat out on the water, minus the pitch and yawl. Black clouds roiled in the sky above. Lightening arced from cloud to cloud, adding to the drama of the scene. Suddenly, lightning struck water not far from them.
“Them” consisted of several fishermen reluctant to leave their spots on the pier, fascinated by the show put on by nature. “Them” was Gaff, Shirley, and Charlie.
Gaff continued to watch the light show as he spoke to those with ears to hear. “You think this was the way life first came to this planet? Lightning hit the sea of potential?”
Shirley was standing next to him. “Hunh? What do you mean ‘sea of potential’? That’s just the ocean out there got struck by lightning.”
On the other side of Shirley, Charlie laughed. “My hunch is that something in that ocean got fried by the charge.”
Gaff laughed too. “You mean we can set our hooks for fried fish this morning?”
Shirley pulled her slicker close and snapped it shut against the rain that was beginning to pelt the boards above them. The wind drove heavy drops at an angle acute enough to reach most of the way to the bench at the back of the lean-to. “We’ll get stuck out here if we stay much longer. Rain’s starting for real now.”
Charlie leaned around her to get a better view of Gaff. “You are an odd bird, Gaff. What do you mean “sea of potential’? That caught my attention. I know you well enough to know there’s something deep behind that question. You’re always passing along new ideas with your odd-ball comments.”
Gaff leaned out from under the shelter to look at the sky above them and then moved back into the shelter at the next strike of lightning. He wiped the rain from his face. “I was just wondering if the first thing on the planet was the water filled with all kinds of molecules and atoms that had the potential of becoming living, breathing creatures. Then the lightning came along and zapped them together to form some kind of life.”
“Kind of like Frankenstein?”
Charlie laughed. “Or like the paddles that EMS used to restart my heart last year when it didn’t want to work.”
Gaff nodded. “Like Frankenstein. Like the paddles. That’s a good simile, Charlie. Mind if I use it sometime?”
Charlie grinned. “Nope. Be my guest.”
Gaff looked far out to the horizon where the real light show was going on. “If you think about the earth as your mother.”
“Like you always talk about Mother Water?”
“Like that. If you think about the sky as your father.”
Charlie’s head jerked up to look at the clouds and lightning and nodded. “Father Sky.”
Shirley sat down on the bench against the back wall of the shelter, prepared to wait the storm out. “My preacher’s always talking like God’s a real person taking up residence in the sky. We pray with our hands held out, palms up, to accept His bounty.”
Gaff glanced back at her. “To accept His bounty and maybe to offer Him your self?”
She thought a moment. “I reckon you’re right. That does make sense, to offer your soul up for Him to heal.”
“Not only to be healed, but to be used in His service, I think.”
She frowned. “I’ll have to think about that. Hmmm, maybe that’s the part of his sermon that I didn’t understand.”
The lightning crashed into the water again with a thunderous crack. Gaff turned in time to see another bolt going from cloud to cloud. “I love the excitement of the storm. The beauty and the drama. This’s been going on since the beginning of this planet; a love affair between the earth and the sky expressed in electricity.”
Charlie grinned. “Resulting in fried fish.”
“And Frankenstein’s creature?”
Gaff looked back to see Shirley laughing. “If that’s what you want to call us humans.”
“That explains my mother-in-law.” Charlie grinned.
“You wait till I see her! You know she lives next door to me.”
“Is that a threat, Shirley?”
Gaff watched the storm in silence for a while, awed by the power of the Universe. He thought about how each life is a sea of endless potential that can be jolted into something wonderful. Lightning crashed into the water again. “That process of creation required trauma to the water, the violent joining of two elements: lightning and water. The energy running through the water could join together some of the separate atoms and molecules floating in it to form a different organism. Is it always like that, I wonder.”
Charlie cocked his head. “What are you going on about now?”
“What I was thinking is how the EMS used trauma to restart your heart. Here, lightning passes through the water with a crash that could combine some of the molecules into new life forms. If you see each human life as a sea of endless potential, does it require trauma for the person to realize his potential? That’s the question.”
Charlie looked out to the clouds over the horizon and finally nodded. When he spoke, his voice was serious. “It took that heart attack for me to see what’s important in life… in my life. I used to think that a new car was important. Or adding that room to my house so it was bigger than my brother George’s. I used to regret that I couldn’t give my wife the kinds of things that George gave his wife.” He stood in silence for some time.
Gaff waited for more.
Charlie nodded as he watched the storm. Was he agreeing with some voice in his head? “George got divorced this year. Surprised me because I thought they were doing so well. Turns out they were not happy behind the closed doors of that big house of theirs.
“But that heart attack and the possibility that I might die made me realize that I hadn’t seen enough sunrises and sunsets. I hadn’t caught enough fish. I hadn’t played enough hide-and-seek with my grandchildren. I hadn’t told my wife how much I love her– not enough.”
“Is that when you retired?”
“Yep. Retired to spend more time with my family. If I only have a little time left on this planet, I don’t want to waste it working to buy stuff that I’ll leave behind. I’d rather grow the relationships and the love that make me feel good.”
Gaff smiled. “That’s a fine legacy to leave, better than a pile of stuff.” He was interrupted by the crash of thunder. “Don’t forget the fish. You retired so you could catch more fish, too.”
“Not really. I retired so I could spend more time with my crazy friend who talks about how every life is a vast sea of endless potential. The trauma of that heart attack and the realization that I could die any minute was what it took for me to make something better out of the life I had. That trauma made me see the potential in my sea and to see that it isn’t endless.”
“Seems like you gained an appreciation for the gifts you’d been given. And realized that it’s a waste of time to compare yourself with other people.”
Charlie nodded solemnly.
Shirley’s voice came from the seat behind them. “You guys are too damned serious for the pier. Want to get serious, go back to the beach.”