In A Match to the Hearth, Gretel Ehrlich recounts the harrowing experience of being struck by lightning. Hers is a reminder that even in our comfortable industrial civilization, the human body and the natural world are still very much intertwined. Human beings cannot escape the sometimes dangerous environments in which they find themselves, and we are rendered vulnerable to the forces of nature because of it. Ehrlich takes a great number of steps to “help herself” in the aftermath of her incident, so it is difficult to isolate any one in particular. For example, after being struck, she begins to conduct research into the effects of atmospheric electricity on the human body. But she does not stop at scientific musing on the phenomenon.
Erlich also engages in mythological, philosophical, religious, and metaphysical speculation about lightning in order to come to a holistic understanding of not only its physical properties but also its subjective implications on the body and soul. Much of the book is devoted to Ehrlich’s feelings of helplessness and incapacity in the weeks and months after her injury. Therefore, these exercises in thought help her regain both a sense of self-composure as well as a renewed sense of strength and hope.
Finally, Ehrlich also took up a number of recreational activities to help her overcome the trauma. For example, when describing a dance performance that she attended, she says,
Seeing our collaborative work unfold on a large open stage—no proscenium, no rules by which we can declare what in our lives is fiction and what is “reality”—as if the two are different, as if it did not all come from the same imaginative source—was a gift, a new life, cancelling out for a moment the huge and ungainly blank that lightning-induced amnesia had deposited in my private narrative of how things had been and, therefore, how things are now.
The reader can see how such activities provided Ehrlich with a stability and a departure from the feeling of life’s randomness that the lightning strike had caused.