I was awakened by the lightning. Not the thunder, not the windchimes whirling dervishly, not the rain slapping against the side of the house. Not the sound of the storm, but the light. Through the thin slits between the slats of the window blinds, into the flat blackness of my bedroom came slashes of white that prized their way through the blue-veined flaps of my eyelids and jerked me away from whatever dream world I had been visiting.
One does not think in those moments; one senses. And the first sensation was that the flashes of lightning looked amazingly like cartoon bolts, jagged and irregular, as though Mighty Mouse could be riding one of them. Or like Harry Potter’s scar. Or like the crack in the Liberty Bell. The second sensation, coming not so much on the heels of the first, but concurrently with, was that there would be a migraine.
I was in law school when I had the first one. I didn’t know what to call it. A mind-bending drum beat in my temple that left me huddled in a dark corner of my apartment wondering not whether a person’s head could literally explode, but only at what moment it was going to occur. That doesn't happen much anymore, that kind of guerilla attack. I am older and wiser, armed with powerful pharmaceuticals and no longer too stubborn or proud to admit that I am no match for whatever it is that causes my brain to turn on me with the ferocity of the Furies.
The relationship between flashing light and migraines isn’t exactly clear. Most scientists agree that migraine sufferers are more sensitive to light in general, so it would make sense that bright light, flashing light, light in a form or intensity outside the norm could be problematic. I know this, but this is not what I was thinking as I lay there, fully awake, feeling the beginning of a trembling in my head, like picking up the distant rumble of a train through your feet.
What I was thinking was: This is interesting. And: What exactly just happened, neurologically speaking? And: When will I need to get up to take something? And, probably most importantly for a person whose preferred currency is words: How can I describe this?
The lightning continued. I got up and took something and eventually went back to sleep, having made what I hoped was a successful pre-emptive strike. When I woke up again it was morning. All day long tiny spikes and shards of light, like leftover pieces of the lightning, hovered in my peripheral vision. All day long everything I saw trembled just the tiniest bit. All day long I kept thinking, how can I describe this?
It wasn’t that day or the next day, but a few days later, still trying to answer the question, that I found myself remembering the lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem”: “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.” I thought of the lightning again, how it had looked like the crack in the Liberty Bell. And I realized that it wasn’t the lightning I’d been trying to describe, it wasn’t even the migraine. It was the crack.
I hate migraines. I never want to have another one. But migraines are the everpresent reminder of the cracks. The limitations and imperfections. The failures and regrets. The missed opportunities and the bad choices. The things that, one by one, let in the light.
I’ll take that. I’ll take the pounding drum beat and the huddling in the corner if it brings illumination. I’ll take the attack of the Furies if it gets me the truth. I’ll take the struggle if it gets me the light.